Louisiana, the nation’s largest producer of fresh oysters, has closed more of its Gulf Coast harvest areas this spring than at any time in the last decade.
The closures came quickly last month. Oyster harvest areas in four Louisiana parishes south of New Orleans have been closed since late March. Areas off limits are located in Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson and Lafourche parishes.
The areas are on the Gulf Coast in locations both east and west of the Mississippi.
Harvest zones closed are numbers 3,7, and 13–all were put off limits to harvesters on the order of Dr. Jimmy Guidry, the state health officer. Guidry began signing closure orders when outbreaks of norovirus sickened more than 50 in both New Orleans and Pascagoula.
People struck with norovirus are usually hit with severe flu-like symptoms including fever, chills, aches, nausea, and diarrhea lasting for a couple of days. Recovery usually follows in short order.
Health officials in Louisiana and Mississippi say they cannot be sure oysters were to blame, but closed the suspected areas as a precaution.
For Area 7, Guidry not only put the harvesting of molluscan shellfish off limits, but also ordered a recall of all shucked, frozen, breaded, and post-harvest processed oysters, and oysters for the half shell market.
The earliest any of the areas could re-open would be later this week. So far, the closures have not had any noticeable impact on the availability of oysters at any of the Gulf Coast’s many raw bars.
New Orleans, however, is just ten days away from its 41st Annual Jazz Festival, an event that will bring thousands of visitors to the Big Easy to hear music by hundreds of musicians including Simon & Garfunkel, B.B. King, and Pearl Jam. When not at the festival, many of those visitors will be out looking for authentic raw oysters.
Louisiana requires harvesters to keep logs of the waters where oysters originated and where they are sold. Sewage runoff can lead to high fecal coliform levels in Gulf waters, causing the norovirus contamination.