Ridenhour Prizes co-founder and New Orleans resident Randy Fertel had an op-ed in the New York Times on January 27. In it, he argued passionately for the restoration of the Mississippi River Delta, which loses the equivalent of a football field or marshland every hour.
Disaster and rebirth is an old story around here. My family has lived that cycle for generations. After the hurricane of 1915, the family spent three weeks on the levee, the only high ground, their cattle and rice, ready to harvest, washed away. Life was hard. But it was also the land of plenty. In deltaic mud 200 feet deep, they farmed rice, indigo and oranges. They hunted and fished. In the Depression, according to my mother, who would later found Ruth's Chris Steak House, "We never knew we were poor. There was always plenty of food for the taking."
What is happening to the delta today is a national crisis. Twenty percent of the seafood caught in the United States in 2009 came from the gulf. (That dropped to 16 percent in 2010, when vast areas of the gulf were closed.) Ninety percent of that catch depends on the wetlands for some part of its life cycle.
The BP spill occurred at just the moment and at just the spot offshore where the magnificent but endangered bluefin tuna spawns. Chances are we've lost at least one generation of bluefin. (Sushi fans, think, no more toro.) Another sure sign of loss is how hard oysters are to come by. Oysters have been a mainstay in the seafood gumbo with which my Plaquemines Parish family begins our festive dinners. This December, oysters for my Christmas dressing came from a friend in Galveston, Tex.
The oil spill may prove to be one too many disasters for the return of the Plaquemines Parish my family once knew — unless we see it as an urgent opportunity for changes long overdue.
Fertel is also the author of The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak: A New Orleans Family Memoir.
Read the entire op-ed here.