This is a bad year for people who make their living from seafood in Louisiana and Mississippi. Floods from the Midwest are killing oysters, and driving crabs, shrimp and finfish out of bays and marshes, into saltier water where they can survive.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, we are 9-and-a-half destroyed,” said Brad Robin, whose family controls about 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares) of oyster leases in Louisiana waters.
Many species that depend on a brackish mix of fresh and saltwater in coastal estuaries are decamping as this year’s huge floods flush in fresh water, laden with pollution from farms and cities in the Mississippi River basin.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant asked the federal government on May 31 for a fisheries disaster declaration to make federal grants, loans and other aid available to affected people. Gov. John Bel Edwards has prepared to follow suit, asking for details to support a request for Louisiana, state fisheries officials said last week.
Louisiana’s oyster harvest is 80% below average for this time of year and more oysters are expected to die as temperatures rise, according to a preliminary report on the department’s website. Shrimp landings were down 63% and blue crab landings down 45% in April from the five-year average. There’s been a drop in the fish catch, but it hasn’t reached the statewide average of 35% needed for a federal fisheries disaster declaration, the report says.
Marine animals require certain amounts of salt in their water. Oysters can tolerate a wide range of salinity, but a long spell of fresh water coupled with high temperatures can be lethal. Shrimp, crabs and fish simply swim to saltier areas.
Shrimp are now in places only larger boats can reach, says Acy J. Cooper Jr., president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association. The water isn’t expected to go down any time soon.