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The oil spill's impact on oyster industry

Sal Sunseri

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: The biggest concern onshore is what happens if the oil reaches fragile estuaries and marshlands. The slick is so large that it could affect coastlines in five states and the fisheries that thrive there.

One man closely monitoring the spill's movements is Sal Sunseri. He's the owner of P&J Oysters in New Orleans. The company's been around since 1876 and it's the number one oyster supplier to New Orleans restaurants. We first talked to Sal in early September of 2005, about a week after Hurricane Katrina wiped out the cooling systems in his oyster warehouses. At the time he said it would take three years for the industry to return to normal. He's back on the line with us now. Sal, thanks for joining us.

Sal Sunseri: Thank you for having me.

Vigeland: I'm just regretting that the only time we seem to be talking to you is when there is disaster on the way.

Sunseri: You know, I know we've been through a lot together, but a lot of people don't realize that we've been hit with Katrina, we've been hit with Ike and Gustav -- all hurricanes. We've been hit with federal regulations, state and local refrigeration requirements. And now this. It's just a shame what it's presented to the oyster industry, yet of course -- I'm a little biased -- but, of course, the best seafood there is.

Vigeland: Having been there, I would have to agree with you. Can you talk us through, geographically, where are the oyster beds in relation to where this oil slick is headed?

Sunseri: Approximately 50 miles away. So we still prayfully have a lot of work to be done by the oil companies. Hopefully they'll take our offers because shrimpers, oyster farmers and other boats are offering their services to help with the spill, help skim, whatever it takes to not allow this to enter our estuaries.

Vigeland: What happens to you if it does?

Sunseri: We'll be devastated. No telling how long it would take for this type of spill to be cleansed again.

Vigeland: Sal, you know, this years marks, of course, the five-year anniversary of Katrina, a natural disaster. And now you have this man-made disaster heading your way. What are your thoughts at this point about your livelihood?

Sunseri: Well, we're a very resilient industry, and a very resilient industry and a very resilient people here in southern Louisiana. And I think -- hold on -- man, you got me choked up, girl. When you said that, I was like God, look at what we've been through. Through all these different challenges. But we are a resilient people. We will fight back, we will make it. We're a 134-year-old business. And I pray that my children and grandchildren will be able to at least have the opportunity, I don't necessarily want them in this business, but at least have the opportunity.

Vigeland: All right, well let's end this on a positive note for you. Tell me a little bit about this first annual Oyster Festival coming up.

Sunseri: Well, I don't know if you recall, but we anticipated the first annual New Orleans Oyster Festival June in '06, all that was pushed back. So we've been working on this for many years, and we finally have the opportunity, everything is all put together. We actually have the deadliest catch crew as one of the oyster-eating contest participants. And sure enough, this comes up. But we're set, still set right now to be June 5th and 6th of this year for the Oyster Festival.

Vigeland: Sal Suneri is the owner of the P&J Oyster Company in New Orleans. Thanks so much and best of luck to you.

Sunseri: Thank you, and just everybody pray for us.

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