St. Mary Parish tourism, seafood industry were affected by spill
By PRESTON GILL
MORGAN CITY — While the oil Deepwater Horizon oil spill may not have polluted St. Mary Parish shores and wetlands, the spill may have contaminated the minds of people throughout the country about tourism and the safety of seafood.
“I go to trade shows in New York each year and people still think we have oil covering our coast,” said Carrie Stansbury, executive director of Cajun Coast Visitors and Convention Bureau.
BP spokesperson Ray Melick said that St. Mary Parish received $500,000 to advertise and promote tourism and local seafood.
Parish President Paul Naquin said the parish utilized the money in several ways.
Stansbury said the tourist commission has used most of a $350,000 fund that came out of that donation to promote the parish’s image and that it has helped correct some misperceptions about the region. But, she indicated there is still work to be done to encourage people outside this region to recreate in our nature-based tourism industry.
Melick said that the Gulf tourism industry has seen a rebound.
“BP is supporting Gulf Coast tourism through the payment of $179 million for state-led tourism campaigns and $57 million for non-profit groups and government entities to promote the tourism and seafood industries,” said Melick.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries started testing seafood caught in the Gulf and it was all coming back with a clean bill of health, according to St. Mary Office of Emergency Preparedness Director Duval Arthur Jr.
“Some people definitely shied away (from seafood) until they knew it was safe to eat,” said Robert Chouest operations manager of Cannata’s Food Market. He said sales in seafood quickly rebounded but, “the seafood industry is still suffering.”
Procuring crabs from his seafood wholesalers is a “hit-and-miss” exercise, Chouest said. He was reluctant to attribute a definitive reason for a shortage but, he said, a shortage of crabs has led to a 10 to 15 percent price increase for crab meat.
One of the most affected sectors of the seafood industry may be the harvesting of oysters.
Sidney Michel, a local fisherman, said oysters were affected to a greater extent because they were unable to move away from oil and pollution. He said the decrease in some fisheries could be a natural cycle where some years are good and some are bad.
John Tesvich, president and co-owner of AmeriPure Oysters in Franklin, is not as optimistic about the future of Louisiana oysters. The oyster industry is about 50 percent of its pre-spill harvest quantity, he said. Although prices have risen, quality has fallen as smaller and less-plump oysters are now marketed. He said that his company’s revenues are about 75 percent of what they were before the spill.
Melick said that with the exception of oysters, commercial harvesting in Gulf states, excluding Texas, are close to the average of 2007-09 levels. Shrimp and blue crab landings are 1 percent lower than 2007-09 averages, he said. Commercial oyster landings in 2011 were 17 percent below the 2007-09 average. Melick said many experts attribute this to flooding in 2010 and 2011, which reduced water salinity.
“We are at historically low levels of harvesting and we don’t see a significant recovery on the horizon,” Tesvich said, regarding oysters. “There are a lot of things we don’t know but something is going on.”