Endangered Cookbook

Mar 10, 2012 by

It was published in early 2010 and hailed as a beautifully illustrated fount of oyster recipes and a “sublime tribute to an institution and product that helps define and enhance New Orleans culture.” I came across it the other day and had to concur, even though I don’t like oysters much, myself.


What I like even less is what is happening as a result of the Macondo blowout of April 2010:

Dr Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer and a marine and oyster biologist, and Tom Soniat, a University of New Orleans oyster biologist, invited Al Jazeera to accompany them, Robin, and Robin’s son to check for recovering oyster populations.

The marsh area outside of Yscloskey, Louisiana was severely affected by massive fresh-water diversions from the Mississippi River. The choice to divert river water was made to flush the marsh in order to prevent oil from washing in, but the fresh water has killed all the oysters, and Cake believes dispersed oil came in anyway.

Further complicating things, Cake has pinpointed at least two invasive species that do not bode well for a recovery of Louisiana’s oysters.

“We are finding sponges growing on our oysters,” Cake told Al Jazeera. “They encrust the oyster shell and that prevents new spat [baby oysters] from attaching to grow new oysters. We don’t know why this is happening, but we think it came in response to the fresh water and oil. This is the first time we’ve seen it.”

The sponge is chalinula loosanoffi, and is native to Ireland, the Netherlands, and the upper East Coast of the US.

Cake has also found a worm, poydora aggregata, native to Maine, which attaches itself to oysters and fouls their shells.

“I’m worried these sponges and worms could wreak havoc on the industry,” Cake said.

Louisiana’s oyster harvest in 2010 was cut in half, to a 44-year low, due to BP’s oil disaster. Scott Gordon, Mississippi’s director of the Shellfish Bureau of the Office of Marine Fisheries, said in the summer of 2010, “I fully expect to have 100 per cent mortalities of the oysters in the western Mississippi Sound”.

His predictions have come true.

Professor Soniat explained that the oyster industry is afflicted with “multiple impacts”.

“First the oil spill took away their fishing season,” he said of the fishing ban put in place after the BP disaster. “Second, the fresh-water diversion took away the oysters; and third, the programme of having oystermen harvest shells from their leases to try to re-seed other areas killed the oyster reefs.”

Cake recently told Al Jazeera that many of the Gulf fisheries “have already collapsed” and the only question is “if or when they’ll come back”.

“If it takes too long for them to come back, the fishing industry won’t survive,” he added.

Given that after the Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska in 1989, herring have still not come back enough to be a viable fishing resource, this does not bode well for the Gulf seafood industry, whose fisheries are – according to scientists like Cake and Soniat – still in the initial phase of collapse.

P&J’s own website hasn’t had its news updated since June of 2010. The 130-plus-year-old company is a shell of its former self. And we’re supposed to believe that a settlement from BP will provide closure.


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