About two weeks before the explosion and fire on the Deepwater Horizon oil platform off the coast of Louisiana, Food Safety News pictured the wrong species when reporting on a West Coast oyster story.  We quickly heard from Ed Cake of Gulf Environmental Associates in Biloxi, MS who pointed out our mistake and cheerfully agreed to be a resource for us in he future for keeping oyster mugshots straight. Ed Cake, “Oyster 1” on his Mississippi plate, is an expert in marine biology and the environment. He was working to salvage an oyster industry in the oil-rich Gulf long before the infamous spill. He serves on the Louisiana Oyster Lease Damage Evaluation Board. Then, on April 20, 2010, that explosion and fire that killed 11 and injured another 17 oil workers ignited the BP oil spill that became the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history and continued until it was finally capped off on July 15, 2010. The BP oil spill discharged 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. It was clear from the beginning that the oil spill would have profound implications for the safety, quality, and quantity of Gulf seafood. Helena Bottemiller, our Washington D.C. correspondent, and I both headed to the Gulf. I went to Mississippi and Alabama and Helena to Louisiana. Luckily, I remembered to pick up the telephone number for that pesky oyster guy before getting on the plane to Mobile, AL. It was a very lucky break, as Ed Cake can open doors in Gulf seafood industry like no other. While I was in Alabama, he suggested I go out and visit with Chris Nelson, a fourth generation member of the family that owns Bon Secour Fisheries Inc. and was among the first to sue BP for damages. When I arrived in Mississippi, Ed Cake met me at the border and guided me into the Back Bay city of D’iberville and took me to lunch with Mayor Rusty Quave. D’iberville, on the interior side of the water across from Biloxi, was smashed and nearly drowned by Katrina five years earlier and was just about recovering when BP hit. Lunch with a mayor is about as good a window a reporter can get to an ongoing disaster. After lunch, Ed took to me out to a half dozen other, mostly family owned, seafood operations that were mostly shutdown tight by the oil spill. By that time the Gulf states had closed most of their coastal waterways and federal closures of the territorial waters of the U.S. in the Gulf would eventually reach ask area the size of Minnesota. This being the period of the third anniversary, it is time to check in with Ed again. Here’s a little background: The reproductive cycles for oysters begin with spat sets or just spat, which are the larval oysters that attach to some hard bottom and begin to grow. If new growth is successful, it still takes up to three years under good conditions for oysters to reach marketable size. The whole process takes more than five years. “We found good 2012 spatsets and plenty of seed oysters today on several oyster leases in eastern St. Bernard Parish adjacent to Breton Sound, but only on crushed concrete aggregate or “rocks” that were planted late last year.” “However, nearby areas with only oyster-shell cultch caught very few spat. In my humble opinion, residual oil and/or dispersants may have contaminated old cultch shells that were on the oyster leases when BP’s oil and Nalco’s dispersants entered those areas.” “At this point, only a tenuous oyster recovery appears to be underway, especially east of the Mississippi River. St. Bernard oyster lessees are planting plenty of “rock” in hopes of catching this year’s hoped-for spatsets. However… full oyster production east of the river will still take three or more years following a decent spatset throughout Plaquemines and St. Bernard Parishes.” “We’re still dealing with the long-term effects of the BP oil spill,” he adds. “The Louisiana oyster industry is still struggling to survive with only about 40 percent of the normal oyster stocks currently available.  In my humble opinion, full production will not be realized for at least 3 more years, provided there are no new oil spills or applications of Corexit dispersants.” BP has paid or allocated something like $42.2 billion for clean-up costs, fines, and compensation paid to businesses and individuals. Very likely, that will not be enough. When you are found “grossly negligent” for causing a disaster and not just “negligent,” it’s a costly proposition.  A court-appointed payout administrator is still working his way through 200,000 claims And as big and complex as the BP oil spill was, restoring the Gulf communities and their oystermen and shrimpers to the way they were prior to April 2010 might yet happen, but it’s going to take more than these 3 years.