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'Canes Leave Oyster Industry Shell-Shocked


Two weeks ago, just after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast, we spoke with Mike Voisin from Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana. He told us that two-thirds of Louisiana's oyster harvest was effectively lost to Katrina and estimated that lost revenues would be upwards of $500 million over the next few years. And when damage to the seafood industry's infrastructure is factored in, total loses could be closer to a billion dollars. At that time, oyster beds in the western part of Louisiana were large spared, but then Hurricane Rita hit them this week. Mike Voisin is on the phone from his home in Houma, Louisiana.

Hi, Mike.

Mr. MIKE VOISIN (Motivatit Seafoods): Hello, Liane.

HANSEN: What are the first reports you're getting on damage from Rita?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, Rita actually hit in an area that was an underutilized portion of our seafood community in terms of oysters. And, you know, we get the right punch on our east side with Katrina and Rita now is giving us a left punch on the west side, but in that area, the marsh is relatively healthy compared to the eastern side of our state. It's the underutilized harvest areas in our state, and worst-case scenario, because we haven't got any early assessments--it just occurred yesterday and people dealing with flooding and damage and rescuing, you know, animals as well as individuals--but worst-case scenario is that it would be catastrophically damaged, and I'm sure in some areas it is, but given the healthy marsh, the underutilized harvest areas, I don't think we'll see the same catastrophic damage we saw with Katrina. But I believe the worst case is that we would be down to one-sixth of our overall production and we would be able to continue to do the things that we've planned to do which is to rebuild.

HANSEN: What is it that actually causes the damage? Is it the wind, the surf, pollution?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, the damage is caused predominantly by the massive tidal surges, the large waves that just basically would wash a reef away or wash the production on that reef off into the mud off of the reef and then go into the mud, sink and die.

HANSEN: We've been hearing a lot lately about the loss of marshland over the years and the effect it's had on the ability for the Delta to actually absorb the force of hurricanes. What effect has that loss of marshland had on the oyster farms?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, because we've lost marsh, we've actually increased production. You know, there's a point where you'll begin to lose production, but we're not to that point in Louisiana yet and I think we're probably 40 or 50 years from there in terms of time line. So it's actually increased production 'cause we've lost the marsh which created more water bottoms which means that as long as there's cultch out there or the stuff that oysters will attach to, then we'll be able to get more productive areas. So the loss of marsh has increased oyster production but we're very supportive of saving our coasts. So we need to save our coasts so that future generations can still take advantage of the natural resources we have here.

HANSEN: And that marsh probably was probably more dramatic in the east and maybe in the west it was better protected, do you think?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, yeah. You know, the biggest challenge is that we leveed the Mississippi River, which used to bring us floodwaters and with those floodwaters came the silt from the Midwest and parts of Canada. That would settle back on the higher grounds and then so the higher grounds would get higher. Once we leveed the Mississippi and we did a good job of protecting all the cities like New Orleans, well, the city then began to sink and then we saw the bowl effect that occurred as a result of Katrina. So we weren't re-nourishing those areas with silt from the Midwest and from the parts of Canada, so we've get a bowl effect and all of a sudden we started flooding.

HANSEN: You had the chance to come up to Washington and you just returned. You spoke to lawmakers here in the nation's capital about the situation for fishermen along the Gulf. What did you tell them?

Mr. VOISIN: We told them that it was significant to catastrophic damage. We had unbelievable welcome. You know, I usually go up there and you shake hands with people. This time, people were giving us hugs. We met with not only our congressional delegations but also we were asked to come to the White House and visit with some White House executives to discuss the challenges, and people met us with open arms, were willing to help to set the course to be able to resolve the challenge. Given, you know, budget challenges that are there, they're willing to work with us and I'm just impressed. You know, Raul Armestos(ph) said that it's not the storms that we encounter that are important but whether or not we bring in the ship. And I've said to many legislators as well as the executive branch that we need your help bringing the ship in. We're listing a little bit and the bilge pump isn't running that well, but hopefully you can help us to get it up and going again.

HANSEN: Mike Voisin is CEO of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana.

Thanks for joining us, Mike.

Mr. VOISIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.