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The 90 Day Plan

Thursday, June 10, 2010

No mo' po'?

THE world abounds in sandwiches, but in your correspondent's view
there are only three truly great ones: the Vietnamese banh mi, the
Ashkenazi bagel with lox and the oyster po' boy—a New Orleans creation
that has seeped outward from the bayou with varying degrees of success
(ordering one in Mobile or Galveston is probably fine; order one in
Boston at your own risk). It is a testament to America's assimilating
capacity that the first two can be made fairly successfully with
ingredients available at any major supermarket. The last depends on a
highly regional commodity: the fat, sweet Gulf of Mexico oyster,
pulled from waters very near those fouled daily by thousands of
gallons of the Deepwater Horizon's oil.

In 2008 the five states with oystering operations on the gulf—Texas,
Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida (see map)—harvested 20.6m
pounds (9.3m kg) of oysters, worth some $60.2m. They are not the most
valuable species harvested from the gulf—that honour goes to the gulf
shrimp—but they may be the hardest to replace. While 83% of seafood
eaten in America is imported, most oysters are not, and more than
two-thirds of the oysters consumed there come from the gulf.

That percentage is likely to drop drastically this year. The federal
government has closed more than 78,000 square miles (202,000 square
km) of the Gulf of Mexico, nearly one-third of total federal gulf
water, to all fishing. State governments have followed suit;
Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have all closed large swathes as
well. Florida, meanwhile, has lifted some restrictions on the
Apalachicola Bay—home to the south-east's best half-shell oysters—to
allow oystermen to gather as many as possible while the water remains
clean, in anticipation of future closings.

How long the areas will remain closed, and what the ultimate damage
will be, remains unclear. Oysters metabolise oil poorly, and molluscs,
being filter feeders, run a high risk of exposure. The season's real
damage may be done already. Customers are staying away, both from the
seafood and the region itself, which depends on summer tourism.
Indeed, John Ray Nelson, who owns Bon Secour Fisheries in Bon Secour,
Alabama, said that the area has been hurt less by the spill itself
than by "the media, always looking for a tarball on the beach".

The Economist Newspaper | United States

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