One year after Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Collins family tries to hang onto 90-year-old oyster business

Posted: 06/30/2011 in all marine news

Brett Anderson –

Nick Collins pulled a dredge up alongside his oyster boat, numbly resigned to finding his worst fears realized.

“I knew there were going to be dead oysters, ” he said after emptying a load of shells onto a metal work table at the bow of the Broad & Tracy, the largest of his family’s three-boat fleet. “It’s still sad.”

Collins ran a dull knife through a pile large enough to fill the trunk of a fuel-efficient sedan. After several minutes of rooting around, occasionally pausing to inspect an oyster or clam shell with his gloved hand, Collins was able to unearth only two live oysters. That meager catch, however, was not the main cause of his disappointment.

It had taken Collins 3 1/2 hours to arrive at Snail Bay, which on a map sits roughly halfway between Port Sulphur, the industrial town on the west bank of the Mississippi River, and Golden Meadow, the village on Bayou Lafourche where most of the Collins family has lived for generations and his starting point for this mid-May excursion.

Of the more than 2,000 oyster bed leases owned by the Collins family, whose Collins Oyster Co. was started nearly a century ago by Levy Collins Sr., Nick’s great-grandfather, the ones in Snail Bay usually are among the most fertile.

That at least was until a year ago, when the Davis Pond Freshwater Diversion Structure was opened in the hopes that the rush of Mississippi River water it allowed in would push oil from the 2010 BP spill out of the area’s delicate coastal wetlands. Collins knew the resulting drop in the water’s salinity would spell doom for most of the oysters on his Snail Bay leases. His mission this day was to see what the future held.

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