GULF OF MEXICO — For Louisiana’s seafood industry, thousands of gallons of crude oil seeping toward the state’s coast is the latest headache of a recurring migraine.
In the oyster industry, the now 1,000 barrels of petroleum leaking daily into the Gulf of Mexico follow federal regulations, then local regulations and norovirus concerns.
“It seems like at every turn there’s something of a major challenge that is around every corner for us,” said Sal Sunseri, who co-owns French Quarter-based P&J Oyster Co., the oldest oyster dealer in the United States.
And now, as preparations for the threat of a hurricane improve, Sunseri said, he wonders why there isn’t more done to prevent major oil spills like the one that has thus far spread into a 600-mile circumference off Louisiana’s coast, 20 miles from Venice.
“There’s a succinct comparison to where after Katrina we weren’t nearly as prepared as we should have been for such devastation,” Sunseri said.
Sunseri said there should be a “quick and direct” procedure in place to prevent such spreading of spilled oil, especially when you’re talking about the No. 1 producer of seafood and No. 1 producer of oysters in America’s mainland.”
The oil began seeping into the Gulf following the explosion and sinking last week of a rig owned by Transocean Ltd., which was contracted by oil giant BP.
As the Coast Guard this morning considered a controlled burn of the tar ball-filled leak, Sunseri said money and the weather also play a role in the cleanup.
“I know $6 million is an enormous amount of money being spent right now,” he said of BP’s estimated price tag of efforts to control the spill each day. “But I pray that it won’t be doubled or tripled from the aftereffects of this spill.
“We need God and Mother Nature and the powers that be to help with this weather pattern to push it out to the Gulf.”
Several seafood industry players throughout the Gulf, from shrimpers to mackerel fisherman, have already begun contacting Edward Hayes, a New Orleans attorney and counsel for the American Shrimp Processors Association, wondering about possible compensation for their loss, Hayes said.
“We certainly don’t want to inflame a devastating situation,” Hayes said. “But if the spill has the devastating impact we think it could, livelihoods could be changed forever.”
The Louisiana shrimping industry already suffered a sharp downturn last year that led to a Baton Rouge protest of hundreds of shrimpers angered about low prices before Gov. Bobby Jindal put together a task force to help the struggling profession, which has since consolidated considerably.
The shrimping industry contributed $1.3 billion to the state’s economy in 2008.
The minor impact that the spill could have, “which is still significant,” Hayes said, is delaying the opening of the shrimping season, which usually begins in mid-May.
“But the major impact, the more devastating impact, would be if the oil moves into the estuary and into these shallower waters,” where oysters and shrimp spawn, Hayes said.
“The shrimp industry faces the toughest economic times in generations, and this could be the last straw,” Hayes said.
Story contributed by Jennifer Larino of City Business of Nerw Orleans