Gulf oyster supply limited by red tide

Oysters_on_iceGulf oysters are in short supply, after the Louisiana Department of Health & Hospitals closed seven oyster beds on the east side of the Mississippi River on 11 December. The move is precautionary, with Red Tide moving toward the state from Mississippi. The Louisiana seafood industry is eagerly awaiting water sample results, to determine when the beds can be re-opened.

“We are stressing. Christmas is about oysters, crab meat and shrimp – not as much fish,” said Brett Borges, purchasing director for distributor New Orleans Fish House in New Orleans. On a normal Friday, the distributor would have 600 to 700 sacks of oysters available, but on 18 December, it was only able to obtain 200.

“For the weekend (19-20 December), I’m probably 60 percent of what I need to go to restaurants,” said Wayne Hess, operations and purchasing director for distributor American Seafoods in New Orleans. “So far, we have kept them in supply and we have enough to supply them through the weekend. It’s what we don’t have in the pipeline for Monday and Tuesday that is going to make it short.”

However oyster beds on the west side of the Mississippi River are still producing oysters, and buyers are looking to the East Coast to obtain enough supply. “We are trying to get oysters out of Virginia and wherever else we can get them. We had the oil spill, so we have dealt with issues like this in the past,” Borges said.

The cooler north wind coming through the region on 18 December should also help combat the red tide, distributors say. “We finally got a decent cold front in, but the wind is hindering some of the boats. Once we get beyond Monday and Tuesday, it should warm up,” Hess said.

Despite sourcing challenges, closing the oyster beds was the right thing to do, said Tommy Cvitanovich, owner of Drago’s Seafood Restaurant, which operates three restaurants that specialize in oysters. “Closing it shows that our industry is working together with DHH, and nobody got sick from this. We are not in reactionary mode like we usually are.”

While Drago’s is “working a bit harder” to source oysters, it is “a good, safe product”, Cvitanovich said.

By Christine Blank, SeafoodSource contributing editor