Historic, 134-year-old oyster business may become another casualty of oil spill


by Paul Murphy / Eyewitness News


Posted on June 10, 2010 at 6:36 AM

Updated Thursday, Jun 10 at 6:29 PM

NEW ORLEANS -- A 134-year-old French Quarter oyster dealer stopped shucking because fishing closures in the Gulf cut off the company's oyster supply.

Workers at P&J Oyster House, the supplier of seafood to many of the city's most famous restaurants, processed their final sacks of fresh Louisiana oysters, Thursday morning.

P&J co-owner Al Sunseri said the short supply left in the few remaining harvesting areas open in the Gulf finally ran out.

"I'm hopeful that it won't be that long and we'll be able to reopen areas, but it doesn't look that way because they cannot stop the oil from pouring into the gulf," said Sunseri.

Sunseri and his brother Sal have run the family business for the past 30 years.

They say with so many Gulf Coast oyster beds now threatened and closed by BP oil, this could be the end of an era at Rampart and Toulouse.

"We've opened oysters here at this location since 1921," said Sunseri. "The only time we ever truly missed a beat was during Hurricane Katrina when we were forced to leave."

Other Louisiana oyster companies feel P&J's pain. Last year, Motivatit Seafood in Houma processed about 25 million pounds of oysters.

Even though most of the company's oyster leases are north and west of the BP spill, Motivatit VP Kevin Voisin said his business and supply of oysters has dropped off dramatically.

"There's days when this plant is completely empty," said Voisin. "There are days when we don't have anything to do."

He said that doesn't bode well for his 200 employees.

"It's rough," said Voisin. "There's not a lot happy. At this point people are just trying to find transition paths. We're trying to find what we can do. Is there life after oysters?"

As the P&J Oyster House shuts down its shucking operation, company owners are calling on BP to help make up for their employees lost wages.

"My game plan is to talk to BP to see if they're going to be able to take care of my friends and family that I've worked with here," said Sunseri.

Sunseri said BP should also offset his business losses, until the sacks of oysters return.

"I hope its shorter term, than longer term," said Sunseri. "This is all I've done for my entire adult life and I don't know what else I can do."

Oystermen say even if BP stops the leak and all of the oil is cleaned up, it could take five to 10 years to re-seed and replenish the oyster supply along the Louisiana coast.