"People don't think of oysters as a farmed product, but they are harvested much like other crops. They just happen to be underwater," says Al Sunseri, owner of P&J Oyster Co. and chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
That's part of the rationale behind a new crop insurance program designed for oyster growers and based on the type of policies land-based farmers can take out to manage the risk of catastrophic damage from natural disasters.
Local oyster industry leaders have been working on the proposal since hurricanes Katrina and Rita severely damaged their crop in 2005, and the Oyster Task Force made the proposal a key component of its recovery plan for the industry. On Nov. 20, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Federal Crop Insurance Corporation approved a pilot program to test the idea in Louisiana.
Beginning in 2009, oyster producers in the state will be able to buy into a group risk insurance program, purchasing a level of insurance based on the last three years of their oyster harvest in a specific area. If a hurricane or some other natural disaster damages the crop, the producer is eligible for a payment from the policy to make up the loss compared to previous years. — McNulty