WASHINGTON, July 19 /PRNewswire/ -- Members of the National Fisheries Institute testified before the House Committee on Resources today on the potentially devastating economic and consumer impact of the proposed listing of the eastern oyster under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). NFI members from the Northeast, Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico attested to the health of the oyster population nationally. They also addressed how an ESA listing would destroy a thriving industry that provides nutritious and affordable food to Americans, and would do nothing to help oysters recover in the environmentally stressed Chesapeake Bay. "The answer is not restricting or eliminating working with the oyster," said S. Lake Cowart, Jr., vice president of Cowart Seafood based in Virginia's Chesapeake watershed. "Water quality is the problem and oysters are the solution." The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) reported that in 2003, the Gulf harvested more than 27 million pounds of oysters -- that would come to more than a billion actual oysters. NFI President John Connelly adds, "Claiming that an oyster population of 27 million pounds is endangered shows why the ESA process is due for serious reform." The ESA petition filed by an environmental group in the Chesapeake Bay region failed to take into account the abundance of eastern oysters in the Northeast as well as the Gulf Coast. The eastern oyster habitat ranges from the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Canada down the Atlantic coast and through the Gulf. Restoration efforts underway in the Chesapeake Bay involving Maryland, Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania have faced significant challenges due to the environmental conditions, persistent drought and presence of disease. The oyster industry represents millions of dollars in income and supports thousands of jobs in local communities. Louisiana alone contributes over $286 million to the economy and supports more than 3,000 full-time jobs. Mike Voisin of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force said, "This listing could devastate local oyster communities; it just doesn't make sense to list this abundant food source that harvesters along the Atlantic and in the Gulf supply to the country." The determination of whether the petition is warranted has to be made by January 2006. NFI is the leading trade association for the fish and seafood industry whose members represent a variety of businesses ranging from the water to the table. For more information visit our website at http://www.nfi.org.
SOURCE National Fisheries Institute