BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Raw, charbroiled, or cooked up in dressing, nothing beats a freshly shucked Gulf oyster during winter. However, this December an unusual red tide is keeping some Gulf oysters from ever seeing a fork.
After finding evidence of an algae bloom off the Louisiana coast, the Department of Health and Hospitals closed seven oyster beds from the mouth of Mississippi River to the Mississippi state line.
"It's very unusual in the winter time. In the summer time you see them in different spots. It's more common in Florida," explained marine scientist Dr. Moby Solangi.
According to scientists, cold winter water would usually keep algae in check. However, a strong El Nino weather pattern and mild temperatures allowed the red tide to roll in.
Because this specific algae, Karenia brevis, produces a toxin it can contaminate shellfish and even kill some marine animals. If contaminated shellfish is eaten, it can cause health issues in humans.
So, how much do the closures impact the next dozen you order? Surprisingly, not much. Careful monitoring of beds by DHH means any areas exposed to red tide are closed before oysters hit the market.
"The system works. They went out there. They tested the water. They saw that it wasn't right for growing oysters. they said stop production until we're sure these waters are safe," said Tommy Cvitanovich of Drago's Seafood Restaurant in New Orleans.
Most Louisiana oyster beds remain open and safe, and it's from those open beds where local restaurants are pulling their catch. Managers said they have had no problems filling orders, and haven't even seen a change in price.
"The oysters in the marketplace are incredibly safe right now and they're delicious, cold water, salty water that just makes for a great oyster whether you're doing an oyster dressing, whether you're eating them raw or charbroiled or frying the, we've got a great product right now," said Cvitanovich.
DHH closed the oyster beds on December 11. Officials said the beds will reopen when conditions are deemed safe.