Day 8 – November 10
Today was oyster day. Our first stop was Motivatit, an oyster processing plant (http://www.motivatit.com). Motivatit owns 15,000 acres of oyster reefs. Technically Motivatit leases their land from the state, but since they have long-term leases, they treat the land as if they had ownership. Oyster fishermen not only take oysters from the water, but also carefully prepare the grounds for future catches by breaking up attached oysters and returning them to the water and if necessary, by providing appropriate substrate materials. This year Motivatit has 20 oyster boats working for them. Usually they have between 25 and 30 boats, but this year the harvest is low, due to excess freshwater.
Our tour guide was Greg Voisin. He is an eighth generation Louisiana resident. His family has been living on the land in Louisiana since the 17th century. Greg started working in the processing plant at 13 years of age on the weekends and now he works on the business end of the company. Greg’s grandfather revolutionized oystering by inventing a high pressure process to kill the bacterial pathogen, Vibril vinipricus, as well as bacteria that cause spoilage. The high pressure process allows them to process three times more oysters and it qualifies as an FDA approved process. One of their products, the Gold Band oyster won the American Culinary Institute’s best tasting oyster three years in a row. The highlights of the tour were seeing an oyster boat, observing the processing factory, and eating my very first oyster. It actually wasn’t that bad. We left Greg with a coffee mug and a business/blog card in order to get to LUMCON in time for lunch.
After lunch we had the honor of being taught by the Oyster King himself, Earl Melancon. Dr. Melancon is a professor of Biology at Nicholls State University and has spent his career studying oysters. Before we tried our hand at oystering, Dr. Melancon gave us a brief history of oystering in LA. He shared interesting facts like oystering is the second oldest managed fishery and that until about 1930 the LA Department of Wildlife and Fisheries was known as the Oyster Commission. There are four distinct cultures involved in oyster farming: the immigrants from Yugoslavia, the Cajuns, the Canary islanders/Spaniards, and the Indians.
Since the water was moving so fast in the marsh (due to tidal effects from the tropical storm), we were told to try to get some oysters from the piers on the docks for examination. We successfully harvested a whole bucket of intertidal oysters. They were really difficult to harvest because they had cemented themselves to the poles. We had to use tools and a lot of brute strength to pry them from their homes. Then we moved to a classroom where we discussed the anatomy, life cycle, and behavior of oysters while Dr. Melancon identified the parts of the live oysters on a TV screen. We even saw an oyster’s heart beating!
After a 15 minute break we went back to the classroom for a lecture and discussion with Dr. Melancon. First Dr. Melancon discussed the natural salinity gradients along the coast and how they vary over time. This variation makes it necessary for oyster farmers to lease land in a variety of salinity zones. We talked about the conflict between the needs of fisheries and freshwater diversion, which is one of the leading solutions to provide sediment to build up the marsh. Dr. Melancon is not in favor of complete freshwater diversion because it will destroy the salinity gradients along the coast that are critical to oyster farming. He believes that the best solution is to support pipeline slurry sediment delivery and to use managed freshwater diversion, where flow from these structures will be regulated for the fisheries, allowing at least one oyster spawn per year.
For dinner we had the famous boiled crab dinner prepared for us by Carl Sevin. We lined the tables with newspaper and laid the crabs down the middle of the table. The crabs were delicious and much sweeter than the Chesapeake crabs!
Everyone has an early night tonight because we have to wake up at 6 AM tomorrow. Yikes!