NEW ORLEANS -- To try and revitalize some of the state's floundering fisheries in the wake of the oil spill, this week Gov. Bobby Jindal began pushing to get now-closed waters back open to commercial fishing.
"What we are saying is in some of these waters, they actually never even got oil," said Jindal, R-Louisiana. "Many of these waters are safe. We want them to be reopened, so our people can go back to work."
Yet, as state and local seafood interests push to get some of Louisiana's waters reopened to commercial fishing, there are now concerns that when those waters are reopened, one part of the seafood industry may have a tough time getting back on its feet. The issue centers around those whose livelihoods depend on oysters -- not only because some oyster beds have been hit by oil, but because some have been hit by fresh water.
"The issue with oysters is they need a certain amount of salinity to live. So, they typically live in a border between the salt water and the fresh water," said Dr. Luann White, director of the Tulane Center of Applied Environmental Health.
To try and keep oil out of the marshes, the state Department of Natural Resources opened up two fresh water diversions: one at Davis Pond in St. Charles Parish; the other at Caernarvon, on the east bank of St. Bernard Parish. The Caernarvon diversion can move about 8,000 cubic feet of water per second.
"It probably dumped a tremendous amount of water on those oysters very quickly. If you change the salinity very slowly, oysters can take it up to a point, but if it comes in very quickly, that can kill the oysters," Dr. White said. "You have to think of oysters as a crop. The oystermen out there, they plant them, they take care of them and it takes a while for those oysters to grow."
Harvesting oysters, though, was already looking to be a challenge this year, according to Sal Sunseri, co-owner of P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans. Sunseri said, even before the oil spill, some oyster beds already had sustained damage from Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.
"We were going to have a tough season going at the end of this summer. But the combination of the fresh water, too much fresh, the closures and some of the oil that has gotten on to a few of the oyster beds. You know, all that combined doesn't dictate a bright, bright future," Sunseri said. "I don't want to be like Schwegmann's, K&B and McKenzie's. We have to be here in the future."
Depending on the severity of the fresh water on some of the oyster beds, it could take them as little as two years -- and as many as five years -- to recover.