BP still hasn’t responded to the assertions by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Secretary Robert Barham that the oil company is late on a payment of $15 million. And the clock is still ticking. At stake is a setback of another six months or more in growing oysters — and the potential collapse of local businesses.
In November, BP America Chairman and President Lamar McKay stood beside Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and leaders from the state’s seafood industry and promised to negotiate an advance payment to fund oyster reseeding and fish hatchery projects that focus on supporting those species affected by the oil spill.
At that time, Barham believed that if BP delivered the money quickly, the cultch — the hard structure that young oyster spat attaches to and oyster grow from — could go out as early as March.
But March has arrived, and the check has not.
So Barham and Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority chairman Garret Graves have announced that the state will instead scrambled to find $2 million, a small fraction of the $15 million they asked for from BP, to start the work. They will then bill BP for the costs and wait for reimbursement.
Oysters are prime to spawn
“The sooner that we get cultch down there, the better,” says Mike Voisin, a seventh-generation oyster farmer who serves as chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. “Oysters will take two to four years to grow to market size. It’s vital that a new crop is seeded as soon as possible.”
Reseeding is the first step to recovery for the struggling oyster population.
“In Louisiana, oysters have two spawning seasons — one in late spring and one in early fall — and both are temperature related,” explains Dr. Earl Melancon, an expert in oyster biology at Nichols State University.
“When the water hits 25 degrees centigrade, or in the mid-70s Fahrenheit, the oysters are prime to spawn. So you have to have the shell out about two weeks before the larvae set.”
A tiny window of opportunity
The timing of the cultch’s placement can be key to its success. If placed too early, barnacles and other organisms could cover the cultch before the oysters even spawn. If placed too late, the oyster larvae could be swept away from the oyster reef having no where to set and grow.
“It takes a considerable amount of time just to get your resources in place,” says Dr. Melancon. “When the LDWF said they need a March deadline, it’s because they have to get things strategically placed, ready to put it out. It’s literally a one- to two-week window.
“If they don’t do that this spring,” Dr. Melancon continues, “then they are not going to get another potential major spawn until the fall — September or October. So you’ve lost six months of recruitment and, more importantly, growth on those shells.”
Oysterman Mike Voisin of Motivatit Seafood in Houma, Louisiana, still has hope that as the responsible party BP will act responsibly, and help fund the oyster reseeding in time for the spring spawning season.
“It’s not a question of if BP will pay, it’s a question of when,” says Voisin. “It is critical that we move quickly.”