Drive far enough into Louisiana's bayou, and the roads turn to rivers. That's where Steve Voisin, an oysterman, took us on Thursday. But instead of oysters we found grass and silt — churned up by Hurricane Rita.
“This died as a result of the storm,” Voisin said as he showed us an oyster, “’cause the siltation came over it and, and smothered it.”
In Terrebonne Parish — which literally means “good land” — it's what Rita did to the sea that's on everyone's mind. More than half the oysters here were killed.
So while lunch at Big Al's Seafood Market is still popular among locals, business isn't good for Arnez Liner, who’s trying to sell his catch for the day: crabs, sorted and weighed. People outside Louisiana aren't buying, he says. They're afraid the seafood's contaminated.
His catch would've fetched $400 in August. Today? $120.
A smiling Liner only says, “One more day. Hope it's better tomorrow.”
There is some good news for those whose boats weren't destroyed: there’s less competition. LeRay Billiot has been busier than usual on his oyster boat, Lady Linda. And every little bit helps. They've been averaging about 75, maybe 100, sacks of oysters every day. On the open market, each sack can go for about $20 apiece. Billiot thinks he’s going to be OK.
“Yeah, it looks that way. It looks that way,” he says. “As long as we stay away from hurricanes.”
Rita may have broken their boats, but their love for this bayou it couldn't touch.
“We don't put these oysters here,” says Voisin, “We just pray they continue coming back, that God blesses us. And he has.”