Restaurants experience shortage of oysters as seafood supply takes a hit after Hurricane Ida

Published: Sep. 22, 2021 at 10:25 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 23, 2021 at 6:17 AM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - As many restaurants reopen, they are now dealing with a supply shortage as the Louisiana seafood industry took a big hit during Hurricane Ida, specifically the oyster industry.

Restaurants like Gris Gris are open for business three weeks after Hurricane Ida, but with a limited menu.

“No oysters on the menu,” said owner and chef Eric Cook. “It’s in most of our popular dishes, our oysters BLT, our oyster pie, our oyster poboy.”

Cook said the limited menu was a tough decision to make but one he said that felt right.

“Obviously our hub is oysters, and shrimp and crabs, and all the things that come from that great region down there, which those people work so hard to bring to our table in New Orleans,” he said. “It’s a must in my book that we all take care of those guys down there.”

Guys like Mitch Jurisich-- a third-generation oyster farmer in Plaquemines Parish, and also chair of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.

“There’s nothing wrong with a good plump oyster. That’s what everyone wants,” said Jurisich, but he’s not able to provide oysters yet. His coolers are empty.

Before the storm, he said the Louisiana Department of Health shut down every oyster-growing parish in Louisiana out of precaution.

“This is for the safety of the people,” he said. “We expected that heavy rainfall along with that storm surge. And we got exactly that.”

That heavy rainfall and runoff make the water dirty and potentially unsafe. Jurisich said right now DHH needs to test the waters before the crops can reopen, but it’s delayed due to difficulty getting into those hard-hit areas.

“Areas west of here. Jefferson Parish, Terrebonne Parish, Lafourche Parish. They took the brunt of this storm. I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of production from those areas for several more weeks.”

Jurisich said after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it took nearly seven months before he was able to get back to working oysters.

“People had to get their lives in order and then get their boats back operable. Our infrastructure was ripped to shreds,” he said. “When we went back to work, we still had to haul our own fuel in and get ice from the big trucks that were distributing it. Also had to run our docks off of a generator to offload oysters.”

He called it “primitive times,” which may be the same case for oyster-growing communities west of Plaquemines Parish that took a direct hit.

While he believes it could be several more weeks before oyster farmers in harder-hit areas of Southeast Louisiana can get back to work, he said the timeline could change based on devastated the areas are. It could potentially take longer.

The oyster crops in the Buras and Empire area of Plaquemines Parish have been tested and are now open, which means Jurisich can now begin harvesting his oysters.

“We want the best quality product out there guaranteed safe,” said Jurisich.

But for now, supply is low and demand is high.

“So we’re gonna wait,” said Cook back at Gris Gris restaurant. “And when they’re ready, we’re gonna be the first ones ready to reach out and start supporting them again and buying that great local seafood.”

Another issue the seafood industry is facing-- and similar to restaurants-- is a labor shortage. After the storm, many workers whose homes were damaged during Ida took jobs elsewhere.

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