DICKINSON, Texas – The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has brought Texas’ oyster industry to a standstill, forcing one company to lay off more than 150 workers since the disaster began.
"My oyster business is nonexistent right now as far as production goes," said Clifford Hillman, the owner of Hillman Shrimp and Oyster Company in Dickinson.
Since the Texas oyster season ends in April, Hillman usually relies on Louisiana’s waters to supply his family business. This year, that’s become impossible and it’s costing his company half a million dollars a week.
"This is the area where we shuck the oysters," Hillman said. "There is no one here. There are no oysters here. There is no activity whatsoever."
Hillman said the situation has forced him to lay off 150 workers since the spill started in April. He worries he might have to lay off 60 more – his entire workforce – if the oil keeps spewing into the Gulf much longer.
Meanwhile, Hillman hopes his customers keep one thing in mind.
"Please be assured that any seafood that hits the market coming from the Gulf is safe to consume," he said. "We can’t afford to lose consumer confidence in our products."
Still, he said he’s not angry at BP.
"Accidents happen and I’m sure they didn’t do this purposefully in any way," Hillman said.
The oyster industry in Texas has weathered major setbacks before. Ten years ago, a major algae bloom shut down the waters off the Texas coast. In 2008, Hurricane Ike caused problems for months.
But this disaster is different.
"This is an endless problem," said Mary Smith, who runs Hillman’s Seafood and Fish House. "We don’t know where the end is."
"It’s frustrating from a financial standpoint," Hillman said. "Hopefully, BP will step up to the plate and help those of us in the industry that have been financially damaged without having to wait through years and years of legal process."