STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week, the oil spread a little bit farther and touched more American lives, including the people who work for P&J Oysters in New Orleans. The owners say it's the oldest continuously operating oyster processor in America. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.
TAMARA KEITH: It was 7:30 in the morning. Thats when Mitch Jurisich first spotted oil floating on the water above his oyster beds. It was just yards away from where his grandparents first settled after emigrating from Croatia almost a century ago.
Mr. MITCH JURISICH (Oysterman): This is the last of our areas that we had open from our family to harvest oysters. We were fortunate enough to have one little slice of pie left that we were still farming from, and that slice of pie now is gone.
KEITH: Jurisich had hoped somehow the oyster beds his family has leased and farmed for so many years would be spared. Maybe his grandmother was watching over them.
Mr. JURISICH: Everything we've worked so hard our whole life to build could be done for. You know, and it's not the way we like to think, but when you start seeing it, you know reality is here now, you know?
KEITH: Jurisich has the deep dark tan that comes from a lifetime on the water and knows every inch of Bayou La Chute.
Mr. JURISICH: Sad part is, all my life I've been out here, so I've never wanted to do anything else. And you know, I'm not a welder, I'm not nothing. I'm an oysterman, you know?
KEITH: Tell me what we're seeing.
Mr. JURISICH: We're looking at oil, red-looking fudgy oil, and it's disgusting.
KEITH: As soon as Jurisich saw the oil, he got on his cell phone. His first call: wildlife officials, who quickly closed the area to fishing - making official what he already knew.
Then he called his friend Al Sunseri, the president of P&J Oysters.
Mr. JURISICH: I said it's over. And he's like, what? And I said it's over. I said I found oil. He's out of oysters now. You know, it's sad, it's really sad. You know, and we're men, but, you know, you could tell on the inside there was a part of Al that was, you know, wanting to shed a tear. There's a part of me wants to shed a tear.
KEITH: The other six or seven oystermen Sunseri normally buys from had already been shut down by the spill. Jurisich was his only source left.
Mr. AL SUNSERI (President, P&J Oysters): I was planning to get product from him. So that just cuts off just the last bit of the group that we're able to get our oysters from.
KEITH: Sunseri is in his office in the French Quarter, and he seems to be on the phone constantly.
Mr. SUNSERI: Hey, Slim, how are you doing this morning? What - nothing too much. Well, we're shucking our last day today and we don't have any prospects to get anything else in to shuck.
KEITH: About a dozen workers, almost all women, stand up on platforms splitting open the last of Mitch Jurisich's oysters with a hammer and a knife. They pull out the meat and drop the shells on the ground below. Sunseri has told them this is probably their last day, maybe just for a while, maybe forever.
Mr. SUNSERI: This could mean the demise of our 134-year-old business if we have to be off 18, 24 months.
KEITH: For 42-year-old Wayne Gordon, it's the end of the only job he's ever known. Sunseri's father hired him fresh out of high school.
Mr. WAYNE GORDON: It's all we know. This is what it is, this is who we are.
KEITH: This industry survived Hurricane Katrina and all the storms that came before her. But this man-made disaster could be more than these generations-old businesses can handle.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, New Orleans.