While oysters are easier than ever to find at restaurants and bars, they have become harder and vastly more expensive to source in Louisiana, which leads the nation in oyster production.
“It’s never been scarcer in my time in the business,” said Al Sunseri, president of P&J Oyster Co., the city’s oldest distributor.
A precise cause for reduced supply is unclear, with industry experts usuallypointing to some possible combination of damage to harvest areas from the BP oil disaster in 2010; the string of destructive storms since Hurricane Katrina, which tear up oyster reefs and wreck boats and shore facilities; and freshwater diversion projects, which are employed to help rebuild Louisiana’s ravaged coastline but can change the salinity in oyster growing areas.
What does seem clear, however, is the diminished harvest’s impact on oyster prices.
“The quality is good, but the prices have never been higher, and it’s a lot harder to get the supply you need on a regular basis,” said John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force and owner of the AmeriPure oyster processing company in St. Mary Parish.
A 100-pound Louisiana oyster sack which might have sold for $30 a few years ago can cost $70 or $75, he said.