La. oyster industry reps to travel to Washington, D.C.

The following is a news release from the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

On Wednesday, Jan. 20, representatives of the Louisiana oyster industry traveled to Washington, D.C. for their annual celebration of oysters.

The annual "Let the World Be Your Oyster" reception featured some of Louisiana's best chefs serving oysters in a variety of at the Acadiana Restaurant.  A contemporary interpretation of a Louisiana Fish House, Acadiana is an award winning Washington, D.C. restaurant that offers a blend of dishes that reflect the bounty and spirit of Louisiana.

Acadiana is owned in part by acclaimed chef, Jeff Tunks, who called New Orleans home for many years and is still involved as the chairman of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SOFAB).  SOFAB is dedicated to perpetuating the exploration and preservation of food and drink from the south.

Joining the group were local chefs including Chef Brian Landry of Galatoire's, Chef Chris Montero of Bacco, in addition shuckers from ACME Oyster House were on hand to provide guests with fresh, salty, traditional raw Louisiana oysters.

In addition to the reception, Louisiana oyster industry representatives are attending a weeklong series of meetings between oyster industry representatives and legislators.  It is at these meetings that industry representatives will have the opportunity to discuss important issues that the oyster industry is facing.

A priority for discussion this year will be the FDA's proposal that was presented at the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference in October.  It was at this meeting that the FDA proposed to ban the sale of raw, untreated, traditional Gulf oysters during warmer months, or approximately six months out of the year.  The proposal was considered as an effort to reduce the threat of Vibrio vulnificus, which is a harmful bacterium found in Gulf waters and more prevalent in warmer months.  The proposal was to take effect in the summer of 2011, however, an outcry from oyster harvesters, elected officials and oyster lovers everywhere prompted the FDA to reconsider their approach.

Representatives from Gulf Coast oyster industries feared that the proposal would have had a dramatic economic effect on those who work in the oyster industry across the Gulf Coast.  Thousands of people could have potentially lost their jobs and their way of life that has existed for generations could have become extinct.

According to Mike Voisin, a founding member of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council and seventh generation oyster harvester, the Louisiana oyster industry has always been committed to working with the FDA to reduce the risk of Vibrio vulnificus.

"Over the years, Louisiana oyster fishermen and harvesters have taken serious steps to improve the safety and quality of their product, from shortening the time frame between harvesting and refrigeration, and in many instances, installing refrigerators on oyster boats," said Voisin.  "We know that there is a way for our product to exist on the market year round and we are committed to working with the FDA on a resolution that works for all parties involved."

The FDA issued a statement on Nov. 13, 2009 saying that the proposal was on hold and that "before proceeding, we will conduct an independent study to assess how post-harvest processing or other equivalent controls can be feasibly implemented in the Gulf Coast in the fastest, safest and most economical way."

Al Sunseri, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, believes this is a step in the right direction, but that there is still plenty of work to do.

"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 chose, a healthy individual can safely enjoy a traditional raw Louisiana oyster year round," said Sunseri.

Louisiana is the number one producer of oysters in the nation.  In 2008, 13 million pounds of oyster meat was harvested in the state generating an annual economic impact of $318 million.