NEW ORLEANS –- What's a Thanksgiving dinner without oyster dressing?
“Oyster dressing is one of the top things that's on our table, so consequently we have a big selection of them,” said Eddie Moreno, manager of Dorignac’s grocery store.
But some oystermen say their harvest is at an all-time low this year.
“It's 98 percent off this year. That's the lowest I've ever seen it,” said George Barisich, president of the United Commercial Fisherman’s Association.
Barisich believes seeing lingering effects of the BP oil disaster are impacting oyster landings. He said dispersed oil made it impossible for spat to catch on reefs, so few new oysters could grow.
“It's like a Teflon coating on my reef. My reefs are 60 years old and I have no spat catch at all,” he said.
"Oyster landings since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have been significantly lower than pre-spill averages. The impacts from the spill to natural resources, including oysters, are still being investigated," said Rene LeBreton, public information director for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Office of Fisheries.
Three years after the BP spill, mature oysters have been harvested with little left to replace them, said Barisich.
“If they catch right now it'll take three years for them to go to market.”
Barisich said state grounds are depleted. He said private grounds are down 30 to 35 percent, depending on whether the owners have been able to replenish their oyster beds with new rock for spat to catch.
Still, demand remains high, and that means prices have gone up for the oysters that can be harvested.
Darren Chifici, manager of Deanie's Seafood, said oysters recently doubled in price, forcing the restaurant to do something it’s never done before.
“For about a month, we didn't even have any oysters,” said Chifici. “We stopped serving them because the price was really high and the supply was really low. And we couldn't make any money off of them.”
Oysters are back on the menu, but the price remains high. Chifici said it has dropped a bit, but is still nearly double last year’s price.
“You get a lot of customer complaints if you don't have them,” Chifici said.
Still, Moreno said he's having no problem getting all the supply he needs, though prices have risen a dollar a pint in the last two weeks.
“It's a staple just like turkey,” Moreno said. “[People] are going to pay for it no matter what.”
Now, oystermen and officials are doing what they can to replenish state and private grounds and hope for better harvests in the future.
“The 2013 oyster season opened in September... and the department does not have sufficient information this early in the season to be able to compare this year’s harvest to last year,” said Breton. “Anecdotal reports from industry members indicate that they are landing fewer oysters this season than last. This is consistent with the Department’s most recent public seed ground stock assessment, which projected sack size oyster abundance to be slightly lower than last year.”