The oyster catches in the Gulf region have dwindled in the past decade due to situations such as the BP oil spill from 2010, climate change and flood-protection measures related to the Mississippi River. With oysters no longer plentiful and no longer as affordable, the situation has proven troublesome for fishermen as well as their restaurant markets and consumers. And the COVID-19 pandemic added problems as well.
Despite such challenges, oyster season has arrived and continues to be a rite of passage for fishermen – some of whom for generations – continue to dredge the ocean bottom for this much sought-after and delicious delicacy. Louisiana, in the past, has been the country’s largest oyster-producing state, taking in one-third of the U.S. annual harvest.
Vessel disasters, falls overboard
Gulf-region insiders are well aware that oyster season typically begins in September and lasts through April. They also know that working in the commercial fishing industry remains one of the most dangerous jobs in America. And the oyster industry is not exempt from these dangers.
Within the commercial fishing industry in the Gulf of Mexico, the oyster segment recorded the third-most fatalities from 2010 to 2014, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
The region reported 49 fatalities during that five-year period, and the oyster industry accounted for four of them – two each attributed to fatal vessel disasters as well as fatal falls overboard. The shrimp industry had the most work-related deaths, recording 25, while the snapper/grouper industry recorded the second most with nine.
Fatalities attributed to vessel disasters (25) and fatal falls overboard (13) combined for 78% of all deaths in the entire Gulf of Mexico region from 2010 to 2014. In the latter category, none of the victims wore life jackets.
With the arrival of oyster season, fishermen are eager to get back to work. The oyster beds may not be as plentiful, but these tasty mollusks are still there. But fishermen must remember to focus on safety and wear personal flotation devices in an effort to prevent any injuries and fatal accidents.