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New York Oyster Producers Profit As Gulf Industry Slows

Oysters Marketing +4 more

US - The Gulf of Mexico oil spill has benefited Long Island, New York, oyster producers and suppliers, who say they have been getting orders from new customers all over the country in the months since the BP well erupted earlier this year.

“They’re just looking for whatever they can get,” said Christa Relyea, a spokeswoman at Frank M. Flower and Sons, a large oyster producer in Oyster Bay on Long Island.

Many of the Gulf oyster beds remain closed, and a federal report released last week indicated that the spill’s impact on oysters and other seafood from that region is still being determined.

Roughly 75 per cent of the oyster beds off the coast of Louisiana, the Gulf’s largest oyster producing state, are still closed, Olivia Watkins, spokeswoman for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals told TheGulfToday.

Closures and lingering questions about the safety of Gulf oysters have led to increased national demand and higher prices for oysters harvested in other parts of the country, growers said.

Tom Kehoe, president of K & B Seafood in East Northport, New York and the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, said in addition to increased national demand this summer, he’s gotten calls from new buyers, mostly from the South, looking to position themselves in case Gulf oyster production doesn’t fully recover in the fall. “They want to have their marker down. It’s a wait-and-see approach.”

Because oysters are stationary and do not migrate from polluted waters, they are more susceptible to contamination, said Randy Pausina, assistant secretary of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Since oysters are eaten whole, contaminated ones pose a serious health threat to consumers.

Long Island accounts for most of New York’s oysters, but the state is not a major producer.

In 2008, New York accounted for only 135,000 of the more than 35 million pounds of oysters harvested nationally, according to National Marine Fisheries Service statistics. Roughly 60 per cent of the country’s oysters that year came from the Gulf.

Long Island and the Gulf produce the same species of oyster, the eastern oyster, but Gavin Gibbons, spokesman for the National Fisheries Institute, a seafood trade group, said differences in the water make each unique. “The Gulf oyster is an iconic American oyster,” he said. “There’s no substitute.”

Karen Rivara, owner of Aeros Cultured Oyster Co. in Southold, New York said she’s experienced increased demand since the spill for her oyster seed, which accounts for more of her Long Island business than fully mature oysters.

“I think people are looking two years ahead,” she said.

While the entire mid-Atlantic growing region, which includes New York, is seeing price increases of 25 per cent to 30 per cent wholesale for oysters, diners should not see any hikes at local establishments at least in the short term, restaurateurs say.