Off Louisiana’s coast, oyster numbers have dwindled due to a number of factors. Those reasons include climate change, coastal restoration projects, land loss as well as Hurricane Katrina from 2005, the Deepwater Oil Spill in 2010 and last year’s floods along the Mississippi River. An oyster count from last year disclosed the lowest stock size in history in public oyster areas. Meanwhile, Louisiana officials are hard at figuring out how to maintain and grow the region’s oyster population.
As these developments carry on, harvesters continue to fight the good fight in the midst of oyster season, which ends at the end of April. Traditionally, Louisiana has been our country’s biggest oyster-producing state, securing roughly one-third of the nation’s annual harvest of these sought-after morsels. However, some members of the public take for granted the difficult work and dangers involved when fishermen dredge ocean bottoms for oysters. And there are plenty of potential dangers.
Fatalities recorded in Gulf of Mexico
The commercial fishing industry continues to represent one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. Oyster harvesters are well aware of this, or, at least, should be. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), the oyster industry ranked third in fatalities among commercial fishing segments in the Gulf of Mexico from 2010 to 2014. A total of four oyster harvesters died during that time either in falls overboard or fatal vessel disasters.
During that five-year period, the Gulf of Mexico region reported 49 fatalities. The shrimp industry accounted for more than half of that number, ranking far ahead of all others with 25 work-related deaths. The snapper/grouper industry ranked second with nine deaths.
The holiday season typically is a strong market time for oysters. The public needs to give more thought to how oysters wind up on their dinner plates in creations such as oyster stuffing. They should not overlook the dangers faced by oyster harvesters. Neither should the crews and their employers who must continue to stress workplace safety along with the wearing of personal flotation devices.