Tuesday, October 19, 2021

New Orleans oyster farms at stake after flood

Tide reaching into oyster beds threatens coast as toxic sludge from flood is smeared on their floors

The oyster groves at Fort Jackson were set up before the American Civil War, but today, inland from the outcroppings of cropland, eight acres of oyster beds hang dangerously. The tide is now getting steadily higher and closer, and it is eroding the clay that makes up these protective walls.

Several years of bad weather have torn away the sandy soil and exposed only a few hardy ones. Add to this the problem of a seawall in front of the place, which has been built of plaster board and lumber brought in from a nearby mill, the foundations left over from the hurricane of 1929.

Although the rest of the oyster grounds were wiped out by the great hurricane of 1928, the east bank here never recovered. The land remained stubbornly left intact, even as the waters receded. Today, with the south-easterly wind gusting, the resulting tides keep nibbling away at the first few inches of property.

The latest problem is the slick of toxic sludge from last month’s flooding. In areas where there are standing oysters, the mud gets around the coral, and swimming out from reefs exposes the base of the walls. As the tar-like sludge spreads across the walls, it stains the floor and covers the bones of the oysters.

“I’m not stupid,” said Lloyd Roberts, an oysterman who lives on the east bank. “I know what it does to me.”

At last Wednesday’s Board of Aquariums meeting in New Orleans, Louis Armstrong’s widow called on US president Obama to provide a $250m (£160m) loan to help Louisiana rebuild its coast.

Roberts is the only permanent employee for Roberts Bayou Oyster Co. He’s been working for the company for almost 20 years, saving money by spending nights sleeping in his office. His wife helps out in the evenings, in the oyster bars at Clearview mall, Jefferson mall, and on a barbecue restaurant on Kivalina Island on Grand Isle.

Through Roberts Bayou, Roberts’ company exports around 11m oysters a year to the Gulf coast, including supermarkets and restaurants up and down the eastern seaboard. With a 1,400-metre long business in deep water in an area devastated by 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, Roberts carries on despite these recent setbacks. The bayou is now soaked in oil from BP’s spill, and the mud in the walls is rusting the machinery, but no sooner did the oyster beds become exposed than Hughes saw his bank machine leak something. His company normally shuts down for the winter, but Roberts closed down temporarily. “As long as they keep making money, we can keep going,” he said.

Latest article