Commercial fishermen and seafood processors from Louisiana were in Washington, D.C., last week to lobby lawmakers on a proposed rule by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that potentially could ban the harvesting of oysters during warm-weather months. The proposed federal regulation would prohibit taking oysters from the Gulf of Mexico beginning in the summer of 2011 unless the bivalves undergo a special sterilization process being pushed by the FDA. Many in the oyster industry fear the FDA proposal would put them out of business because of the cost of sterilization equipment. Others say it could cause some consumers to shun the Gulf mollusks because the process ruins raw oysters' taste and consistency. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, likens the proposed regulation to "swatting a fly with a sledgehammer" because the targeted bacteria, Vibrio vulnificus, can cause deaths in some but doesn't necessarily rise to the level of federal intervention. Melancon, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and other lawmakers from the Gulf region met with senior FDA officials in November 2009 to voice their concerns and managed to slow down the policy train a bit.
"The Louisiana oyster industry owes a lot of thanks to our elected officials and oyster lovers who spoke out against the FDA ban, and we hope to use this opportunity in Washington, D.C., to further educate elected officials and others on the importance of our industry and the steps we are taking to ensure that, if they choose, a healthy individual can safely enjoy a traditional raw Louisiana oyster year-round," says Al Sunseri, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force. The D.C. lobbying trip was part of the annual "Let the World Be Your Oyster" reception and featured some of Louisiana's best chefs serving oysters in a variety of ways. Joining the group were local chefs Brian Landry of Galatoire's, Chris Montero of Bacco and shuckers from Acme Oyster House. Louisiana is the nation's leading oyster producer. In 2008, 13 million pounds of oyster meat was harvested in the state, generating an economic impact of $318 million. — Jeremy Alford