HOPEDALE, La. (WVUE) - St. Bernard fishermen say the state health department made the right call this week with the closure of three main harvest areas. As they struggle to make ends meet they say it’s important to move quickly to save what’s left.
Oyster boats that should have been out were instead tied to a Hopedale dock that would normally be bustling Friday (July 5). Two days earlier, the state announced a closure of three oyster zones, which longtime oyster fisherman Van Robin said shut down one of the most productive regions in the world.
“The most highly productive areas, they’re closing it, because the oysters are dying in that area, I went out Wednesday and saw 70 percent mortality on my own reefs,” Robin said.
But it’s not just oysters that are dying due to low salinity levels. At another Hopedale dock, crabbers said one in three crabs are near death and can’t be sold.
“The dead one, he goes in the trash, can’t use him for nothing,” Ray Rabon, a local crabber, said.
The fishermen here said they believe the closure of the three main zones, was inevitable and should have perhaps happened sooner. Robin said he took it upon himself to stop harvesting bad oysters weeks ago.
“We didn’t want to put it on the market, and jeopardize our name and get someone sick,” Rabon said.
St. Bernard Councilman Monty Montelongo represents hundreds of the parish’s fishermen and said his people need help.
“We declared a state of emergency a month ago. We got people going next week to find out what help is going to come,” Montelongo said.
Robin said a tropical storm right now wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for the beleaguered oyster industry, but he said there’s a risk to that as well. Too much salt water pushed in by a big storm, could be as bad as too much freshwater, Robin said.
“It may push water in, and pull it out, but if we get too much saltwater in, it could kill them instantly,” Robin said.
Robin said it’s important for the Army Corps of Engineers to begin closing the Bonnet Carre Spillway as soon as possible to allow salinity levels to go up and save as many female oysters as possible.
“If we don’t clear up in the later part of August, we are going to miss massive spawning, and if we miss it, it will take years to recover,” Robin said.
Robin said he’s got leases spread out over a wide area, and though he will suffer major losses, he said he will likely survive. But, he worries others will not.
“This business is dying off at a rapid pace, and this will take a big toll,” Robin said.
St. Bernard officials are scheduled to head to Washington July 15 to appeal to members of the congressional delegation for help, arguing if the federal government is helping farmers make it through a tariff crisis, local fishermen deserve help too.