Oil leak affecting local oyster industry

HOUSTON We spoke with a local woman who is depending on thousands of acres of oyster beds along the Louisiana coastline.

Oyster season begins in Texas about a week from now; technically it's already underway in Louisiana. However, it's nearly impossible to harvest even healthy oysters there because of the oil spill. That's driving one family in San Leon whose business is oysters to the brink of despair.

Oysters boats are idle and empty, and to Lisa Halili, it's as much a sign as a tar ball on a beach of what's happening in the Gulf.

"These boats should be in Louisiana, oystering," said Halili.

Instead they're docked in San Leon on Galveston Bay. Normally they'd be in Louisiana where Halili is one of the largest oyster bed lease holders in the state. Some areas are still open to oyster harvesting there, but open only at a moment's notice, then delayed by FDA testing; all because of the oil spill.

"It's scary because you're panicking that they're not going to stop the leak and you're praying that they do stop the leak, and if they do stop the leak, when is the cleanup?" wondered Halili.

Normally tons of Louisiana oysters would be brought to San Leon, processed and sold to retailers. Instead, only one cooler here has oysters, and only a few bags at that. They were all harvested from Texas waters and have been sold.

Demand for the shellfish remains high, but with fewer Louisiana oysters, there will be less Gulf Coast oysters, period.

"At least fifty percent less compared to last year," said Zim Halili, when we asked him how short the harvest might be.

It's the trickle down from oil spill that's gone on for more than a month, just a state away.

While not in Texas waters, the impact is hitting the Texas seafood industry; there are no workers needed to shuck oysters and less business tax revenue for the state.

"That's not a little disaster. This is another hurricane," said Halili. "Only we didn't get hit with salt water. We got hit with oil."

The other element to this is the price of oysters. It's a commodity and as the commodity shrinks and demand remains high, the price is going to go up. The fear is that it might drive consumers away.

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