Portraits from the Gulf: Al Sunseri - Oceana USA
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June 23, 2014

Portraits from the Gulf: Al Sunseri

April 20 marked the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In the process of filming a short film about the aftermath of the spill, “Drill, Spill, Repeat,” Oceana staff met Al Sunseri, co-owner and president of P&J Oyster Company. His company has been in business for 138 years. Oceana staff sat down with Sunseri to discuss how the oyster industry is struggling four years after the spill. This is the final story in a three-part blog series that highlights the many faces of the Gulf’s recovery. Check out Oceana’s latest documentary, “Drill, Spill, Repeat?”, to learn more.

[Sunseri’s story has been edited for length.]

On his family business…

This shucking house has been in operation since 1921. You’ll see today, that there’s no one in here.

Well, I used to get very emotional talking about this, but I have since begun to compartmentalize the whole thing and not think about it. Because the people that worked out here and processed our oysters, we grew up with them. 

On work after the spill…

Oysters are the canary in the coal mine. … But they’re at a delinquent state. They’re not able to deal with whatever’s in the water.

Over the last few years, I have seen more and more processors like ourselves go out of business. And as time goes on, there’s going to be less of us doing this because we can’t hold out. We’ve been able to hold out because we own everything here. We’ve subsidized the business individually — my brother and myself — to keep it open. But we haven’t received anything from BP.

On the future…

I hope that we will be able to keep the doors open. … In the meantime, we hope that BP does the right thing like they said they were doing and clean up that environment out there.

Our company has been in business for 138 years. We’ve been at this location since 1921 and we’ve been able to go through all those years of operation, through different ups and downs like the wars natural disasters. But this man-made disaster is about the biggest hurdle that we’ve ever had to overcome.

Want to know more about how the Gulf is doing four years after the BP oil disaster, from those still dealing with its damage? Take a look at Oceana’s latest documentary, “Drill, Spill, Repeat?”, to learn more, and click here to host or find a viewing party near you. 

You can also help us stop the drill by keeping oil surveying tests out of the Atlantic.