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Gulf oyster producers prepare for Isaac

Louisiana oysters during the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival at the Fair Grounds Race Course on May 1, 2010 in New Orleans, La. Oyster producers in the Gulf are preparing for yet another major storm to hit the area.

Tropical Storm Isaac is poised to make landfall on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. As it churns in the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans business owners and residents are preparing for yet another potential disaster.

Sal Sunseri runs the 136-year-old P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans, which supplies restaurants all over the area with shellfish. Sunseri says he and his staff are preparing for the worst, while trying to stay positive. "We operate a lean, mean, fighting machine-type of place." The business is still recovering from the BP oil spill. "We're getting back up there. It's a good 75 percent. That's not bad. It's sort of like a comparison with a forest fire, to where it's gone but it comes back strong."

Although the storm is taking away the news headlines from the GOP convention in Tampa, Sunseri says he's still paying attention. "But I heard that the storm's not going that way, so I don't know why they pushed it back or it's a shorter version. But you know, I'd hold it. I think it should be going on."

Meanwhile, Sunseri and his family are waiting to ride the storm out. "We have a small generator just to run the refrigerator and a few fans. We're going to be cooking some étouffée and have some raw oysters."

Kai Ryssdal: If it seems like all the news today is news you've heard before, it kinda is. Another four years, another national political convention. Another seven years, another possible hurricane headed toward New Orleans.

We'll have the economics of political conventions tomorrow, when the festivities down in Tampa Bay really get going. Today, though, we begin with Tropical Storm Isaac. It's expected to hit the Crescent City later this week. Wednesday, last I heard.

We've called Sal Sunseri to see how things are going. He's an oysterman from way back. Runs P&J Oysters down in New Orleans. Sal, good to talk to you.

Sal Sunseri: Appreciate you always thinking about us. And we're going to just keep going -- we're resilient down here.

Ryssdal: How ready can you be for something like this?

Sunseri: We have a generator, so we do have backup this time around. We are pulling in oysters today, and of course oysters the last couple of weeks, so we'll be fine, because the restaurants are going to want to keep going.

Ryssdal: Do people stock up in advance of one of these storms? Do the restaurants come to you and say I got a lay in a supply?

Sunseri: Yes, yes they do. This type of storm.

Ryssdal: Yeah. Are you back yet from the BP oil spill? Have you come all the way back yet?

Sunseri: We're getting back up there. It's a good 75 percent. That's not bad. It's sort of like a comparison with a forest fire, to where it's gone but it comes back strong. Production is not nearly where it should be at this point, but we operate a lean, mean, fighting machine-type of place. You know, small family business. And our restaurants are loyal, you know, people we've dealt with forever.

Ryssdal: Do you get any sense that -- not New Orleanians -- but the tourists are a little bit gun shy maybe?

Sunseri: Going into the end of August, September, there's not as much bookings. But that's typical. This particular year has been pretty strong -- very strong. So hopefully people just realize that this time of year, something could happen. But you know, chances are -- huh? It's not going to be happening much more. Come on!

Ryssdal: Well, that's totally fair. So this is obviously the news of the day, and it's sort of taking away from the big political story -- the conventions down in Tampa. Are you paying attention to any of that stuff down there in Tampa, the convention?

Sunseri: Sure, but I heard that the storm's not going that way, so I don't know why they pushed it back or it's a shorter version. But you know, I'd hold it. I think it should be going on.

Ryssdal: What about you and your house and your family and all that? You're just going to ride this thing out, I guess, boarding up the windows?

Sunseri: We are this time. We have a small generator just to run the refrigerator and a few fans. We're going to be cooking some étouffée and have some raw oysters.

Ryssdal: Sounds good, man, sounds good. Sal Sunseri, at P&J Oysters down in New Orleans. It's a 130-year-old oyster company.

Sunseri: One hundred and thirty-six.

Ryssdal: One hundred thirty-six. Thanks a lot Sal, take it easy.

Sunseri: Thanks for having me.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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