"Here they come!" Jurisich shouted, as clanging chains hauled up the steel dredges, and their contents clattered onto a metal sorting table. The air filled with plink, plink, like the sound of miners' hammers hitting rocks, as Jurisich's crewmen knocked the clumped oysters apart with culling hatchets. Fist-size oysters—the three-year-olds—went into burlap bags. Smaller ones were tossed overboard; those would take another year to reach market size.
In an average year the Jurisich brothers fill 50,000 burlap oyster sacks with about a hundred pounds of shell and meat each. "In a good year we'll do three times that," said Mitch. "And this was lining up to be a good year."
The sun rose over the horizon, casting a warm glow over the barge. Jurisich basked in the moment. "Not only do we like to work out here, we like to play out here too," he said. "If that oil puts us down, we'd lose a lot more than a livelihood. We'd lose our lifestyle."
Like most locals, Jurisich hates the oil but not the industry that spilled it. "Oyster farmers and oil and gas companies have been working here in the same place for more than 50 years. We maintain good relations. No more oil and gas due to this spill?" he asked, and paused. "No. I don't want that. Seafood alone couldn't support this state." He looked out at the water. "This will be a temporary bump in the road." There was a catch in his voice, a note of forced optimism. As if speaking the words would propel them toward truth.
That night a fresh pulse of oil hit Barataria Bay. A day later the oyster grounds were closed by the state health department. Jurisich Oysters LLC was out of business.
The history of oil spills in marshes is a litany of hard lessons learned.
Lesson: Removing oiled sediment from a saltwater marsh can completely destroy the marsh (spill from the Amoco Cadiz in France's Île Grande marsh, 1978). Lesson: Burning oil out of a marsh will not necessarily speed its recovery (pipeline spill in the marsh of Copano Bay, Texas, 1992). Lesson: Cutting—and in the process trampling—heavily oiled vegetation may kill off the marsh much faster than the oil itself would (Esso Bayway spill near Port Neches, Texas, 1979).
One more lesson: The phrase "after Katrina" may have a lot of meanings in coastal Louisiana, but during the oil spill it became shorthand for an awareness that the federal government would not ride to the rescue. If Louisianans wanted the marshes protected, they would have to do it themselves.