(Baton Rouge, LA, Wednesday, December 19, 2018) – Oysters were once a foundation of the Gulf of Mexico ecosystem. Oyster reefs extended for miles across the Gulf’s bays and estuaries. They filtered bay waters, provided habitat for fish, crabs and shrimp, and served as natural breakwaters to reduce coastal erosion. And, of course, they provided a seemingly inexhaustible supply of oysters for the table. But now, across much of the Gulf, wild oysters are in steep decline. Eighty-five percent of the original oyster reefs are gone.
A new report from The Nature Conservancy paints a picture of struggling oyster populations and vanishing oyster reefs despite the efforts of state and regional government officials, universities, non-profit organizations and the oyster industry to reverse the decline.
Only Louisiana is maintaining its harvests, but most of these oysters come from carefully tended submerged lands leased from the state. Even in Louisiana, places dependent upon natural reefs, like Calcasieu Lake, have shown a sharp decline in oyster populations over the past two decades. Though they have rebounded in each of the last two years, they are still not close to where they were ten years ago.
The decline of oysters in the Gulf has had profound human and ecological impacts, and thousands of people in the oyster industry have been idled.
Among the report’s findings and recommendations:
- Wild oysters are experiencing an unprecedented decline across the Gulf; this decline results from multiple causes.
- Traditional oyster fishermen in most states are struggling to make a living; this puts increasing pressure on remaining oyster stocks
- State officials are mobilizing to address the oyster decline. The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill settlement can provide substantial funding to implement restoration plans.
- Comprehensive oyster restoration planning and management are needed at the watershed, state and Gulfwide levels to ensure the most effective investments in oyster restoration.
- It is very possible to restore oyster reefs with the right techniques used at the right locations; TNC’s Halfmoon Reef project in Matagorda Bay, TX is an example of such success.