From the Gulf to the Bay, Oyster Industry Suffers

Spill-caused oyster shortages in Louisiana drive up prices, create hardships for Chesapeake Bay businesses

07-21-2010 // Aislinn Maestas

Rufus Ruark, Jr. is the owner and president of Shores and Ruark Seafood in Urbanna, Virginia on the Chesapeake Bay. Established in 1976, Shores and Ruark shuck an average 60,000-70,000 bushels of oysters per year, which they in turn supply to retailers throughout the Bay area. Before the oil spill began, a large part of Ruark's oyster supply came from beds in the Gulf of Mexico.

“Fifty-percent of our oysters come from Louisiana,” said Ruark. “Right now [since the oil spill], we aren’t getting any oysters from Louisiana.”

Ruark explained to NWF's Amanda Moore just how bad things have been since the spill began. “Not having Louisiana in the equation is really gonna put a hurting on us,” he said. “The oil spill has cost me sales. It’s tightened things for everyone.”

Ruark has already lost 1/3 of his sales with major customers, forcing him to downsize his business. Luckily, he has been able to get oysters locally to keep his business going.

The Domino Effect

To date, hundreds of Louisiana's oystermen remain sidelined by the oil spill disaster. The resulting shortage has caused oyster prices to skyrocket across the country. This in turn has led to many restaurants taking oysters off the menu. Ruark anticipates that the industry will soon “price itself out.”

According to the Washington Post, "out-of-state oysters make up the majority of those shucked at the 28 or so processing houses that remain around the Chesapeake." For many, Louisiana oysters have been a fallback for keeping business afloat in between seasons or during down times.

“With the Gulf Coast producing 70% of the oysters harvested in the U.S., the BP oil spill’s impacts are reverberating throughout the country,” said Karla Raettig, NWF's National Campaign Director for Coastal Louisiana. “Coastal Louisiana and the Gulf of Mexico contribute to the national economy in ways many of us didn’t realize and it is of national importance to protect and restore these areas.”

To hear more about how the oil spill is impacting people and businesses in the Chesapeake Bay, watch this video:

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