A Louisiana favorite might not be coming from Louisiana before long.
Oyster harvesting is at an all time low in the state's Gulf waters, forcing the oldest oyster dealer in the U.S. to look outside of Louisiana to fill orders.
For the first time in its more than 130-year Louisiana history, P&J Oyster Co. in the French Quarter is thinking of importing foreign oysters to meet the demand of New Orleans residents and visitors.
"There's going to still be Louisiana oysters around, but just in much smaller quantities, says P&J co-owner Al Sunseri. "There's a big shortage, and I know that there's not going to be enough shucking oysters to go around as the season continues through the summer and early fall."
Sunseri says he's never seen anything like today's market in his 35 years with the company.
A member of the Gulf Oyster Industry Council and the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, Sunseri has already begun importing oysters from neighboring Gulf states, as well as the East Coast, to subsidize demand.
"We're going to have a few Louisiana oysters, but we're going to have to supplement with some oysters from outside of the country for the first time in our history. It's not what we want to do, but it's what we have to do to keep some oysters in the marketplace."
He has no doubt what has caused the problem.
"It's absolutely related to the oil disaster. There has been little or no supply of oysters coming from the public oyster grounds that used to produce 40 percent of all of the market oysters on an annual basis. So, when you take that many oysters out of a market, it impacts it significantly."
The decline of oyster production has been Gulf-wide since the spill, but in Louisiana where half the Gulf production has always been harvested, oysters in the public growing areas in the Pontchartrain Basin east of the Mississippi River have been absent.
Since the spill, more than $15 million was spent on the unsuccessful restoration of state public oyster grounds.
Sunseri says there's little that man do to alleviate the situation.
"When Mother Nature decides she's going to clean up the area, everything will be back. Three years ago, the spillway opening was really good news because, following every other spillway opening, we saw a resurgence of all oysters and all the fisheries, for that matter. You'd have an initial kill-off, but it was Mother Nature's way of cleaning everything and making it much better."
It's not likely, however, that Mother Nature will solve the problem any time soon.
"By August, we'll be importing oysters from outside of the United States, Sunseri says. "We already have Louisiana oysters and have only had Louisiana oysters this entire year, except for some from the east coast that we had to bring in."
Sunseri has enlisted a certified international seafood importer to provide oysters from a variety of countries to sample, and has provided samples of the international oysters to local chefs for their feedback.
"I brought comparison baked Italian Oyster Mosca dishes to friends at a dinner party, and they were surprisingly okay with them," he said. "They could tell there was a little difference, but they definitely liked the oysters."
"These oysters come from certified suppliers that can ship raw shellfish within the United States. So, we're meeting all the federal guidelines to be able sell them within the state. But, they're a different product. It's a Pacific oyster, it's not an American oyster which grows from Maine to Texas. And, it's definitely not the same as a Louisiana oyster. And that's something we should never have to have worried about, if not for the BP oil disaster."