Ocean Springs biologist studies potential oil impact on oysters - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Ocean Springs biologist studies potential oil impact on oysters

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – "If they're in a little bit of oil and they taste oily or smell oily or feel oily, you don't want to have them," said Oyster Biologist Dr. Ed Cake.

Dr. Cake of Ocean Springs has been sampling the oyster stock in Louisiana's bays and bayous.  As he watched the orange booms in the Mississippi Sound and smelled the odor of oil on Friday, Cake thought about the potential damage oil could cause if it contaminates the 500,000 acres of oyster farms in coastal Louisiana.

"If the oil does come ashore and does smother or kill or otherwise harm the oysters, then we will go back in and do a quantitative sampling," Cake said.

Cake said oysters can survive and purge themselves over time, if the oil is in small amounts.

"If they come into the estuaries, does not kill the oysters outright, they will eventually recover.  It depends on how long the oil can coat the shells and prevent the new oysters from attaching," said Cake.

Cake sees the threat, not just with the oil itself, but also the dispersants.

"That causes the oil to break up in very fine droplets. Those droplets are in the same size range as the particles that the oysters feed on.  So they can take those particles of oil in and it causes lesions and interferes with various biological processes, including reproduction," Cake said. 

Cake said any oil impact in Louisiana could also affect Mississippi.  A lot of oysters from Louisiana are processed in Mississippi and the popular shellfish also ends up on our tables.

"You don't want tainted oysters getting into the market," he said.

So far, no oil has reached any of Louisiana's oyster leases.  However, many harvest areas over there are closed as a precaution.  But if oil does reach the fragile oyster farms, Cake foresees more than just a big loss in fresh seafood.

"I foresee a long term loss for the oyster industry, and a long term recovery period for years and years and years, and a lot of oyster fishermen losing their jobs," Cake said.

And that would be a big blow to an industry that's worth about $350 million a year.

Dr. Cake is working as a private consultant for the Louisiana oyster industry.  He is also serving as a liaison between all oyster biologists and the Gulf Coast oyster industry.

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