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Southern Floods Inundate La. Fisheries

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Southern Floods Inundate La. Fisheries

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Southern Floods Inundate La. Fisheries

Southern Floods Inundate La. Fisheries

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When the Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza spillway two weeks ago to help divert that water from cities further downstream, all that water had to go somewhere. Host Liane Hansen speaks with Motivatit Seafoods President Mike Voisin about the effects of the flooding in the South on the fisheries industry.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

After severe storms drenched parts of the Midwest last week, the Mississippi River swelled with floodwater. The Army Corps of Engineers opened the Morganza Spillway to help divert that water from cities further downstream, like Baton Rouge and New Orleans. But all that water had to go somewhere.

And here to talk about its effect on wildlife and fisheries is Mike Voisin. He's the president of Motivatit Seafoods, an oyster processing company in Houma, Louisiana. We reached Im in his office there.

Mike, welcome back to the show.

Mr. MIKE VOISIN (President, Motivatit Seafoods): Well, thanks for having me, Liane.

HANSEN: So what's the latest with the water that was diverted by the spillway? Where did it all go?

Mr. VOISIN: It's coming down the Atchafalaya and out into Lake Pontchartrain. There were two spillways open: the Bonnet Carre on the east side of the Mississippi River and then the Morganza on the west.

HANSEN: How has it affected wildlife and fisheries?

Mr. VOISIN: Well, in terms of wildlife what we're seeing is that with the amount of water, the wildlife out there is of course headed to levees and to dry land, and some of it is having to swim and is exhausting itself, and some of it's drowning basically. So we're having to close some of the wildlife management areas for access, so that people don't bother the deer, the bears and things like that.

HANSEN: And how about the fisheries?

Mr. VOISIN: The major challenge again - that's what Im in, as you know, is oysters - it's going to be with oysters. It will also mess up the shrimp fisheries and the crab fisheries. It won't kill those species. But in oysters, when you over-freshen an area - which was the challenge post-Deepwater Horizon, as well; we opened some fresh water diversions off the river and it killed a lot of oysters.

So Louisiana that produces 250 million pounds of in-shell oysters a year, we project last year and this year to produce only about 50 percent of that or 125 million pounds.

With what's going to happen with the opening of the Morganza and the Bonnet Carre, I project we will be at about 25 percent of that or 62 million pounds a year for the next two or three years until we can rehabilitate from that.

HANSEN: Wow. That's not really good for business, is it?

Mr. VOISIN: No, it's not. And one of the interesting things, Liane, is prior to Katrina and post-Katrina we were able to get federal crop insurance. 2009 we got crop insurance for our oyster farms, 2010 we got it. And as a result of Deepwater Horizon, they suspended the program this year because crop insurance only pays for damages created by nature, not manmade damages. And with the damages created by Deepwater Horizon, they suspended the program because they said we couldn't tell whether it would be a Deepwater Horizon challenge or a natural challenge in the next year or two.

Here we are with the greatest floods we've seen in probably 100 years. And our crop insurance that we worked hard to get isn't available to us this year.

HANSEN: And what are you seeing?

Mr. VOISIN: I'm seeing the river at the highest levels I've ever seen it -almost to the top of the levees.

HANSEN: Wow.

Mr. VOISIN: And it's holding. I'm seeing water move in the rivers faster than I've ever seen it, 'cause there's such a volume of it coming down. And I'm seeing for the second time in my life the Morganza Spillway opened. Even though we've crested, that crest and that water has to go somewhere and it's going into the Gulf. And interestingly, we've been having a significant amount of south and southeast winds lately; had some little fronts come through, and that's just kind of pushing the water up. So, when it gets down to the base at the Gulf, it's kind of holding there and that's creating some of our challenges.

We got reports just yesterday that oysters in the central part of Louisiana were starting to see those mortalities that we expect.

HANSEN: Oh my. I mean, how are you coping with all of this? I mean, this is the third disaster you've had in the last few years. You had Katrina, you had the Gulf oil spill and now you have the floodwater. I mean, is there...

Mr. VOISIN: Well, we actually, to be exact, we had Katrina and then three weeks later Rita...

HANSEN: Right.

Mr. VOISIN: ...then we had Gustav in 2008 and two weeks later we had Ike, Deepwater Horizon and now the great floods. So, it's been six events in a six-year period. How are we coping with it? It's part of who we are. What I've always said is that us Cajuns are a bunch of MacGyvers. We can take a paper clip and a rubber band and fix anything with it and make anything work.

I will say, though, Liane, on this issue - six in six years - that I'm beginning to see a few people break. I'm beginning to see some straws on camel's back breaking them, beginning to worry that some of the salty fishermen that we have down here aren't going to make it through this. And some of the small oyster farmers and some of the fishermen are just going to go by the wayside.

Deepwater Horizon was a very serious and challenging event. This one is probably more significant to them because it comes on top of that. There'll be a couple of different difficult years that we'll deal with and we'll just deal with it. You know, we won't be able to go to those white tablecloth restaurants; we'll have to go to McDonalds and eat and do a little more eating at home.

HANSEN: Mike Voisin is president of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, Louisiana. Mike, it's great to talk to you again and good luck to all of you down there.

Mr. VOISIN: Great to talk to you, Liane, and best of luck to you.

HANSEN: Thanks.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News.

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