Dive into the Life and Legacy of Jules Melancon: Innovative Oyster Farmer Who Pushed Boundaries and Passed Away at 65

Jules Melancon, a third-generation Louisiana oysterman who refused to give up after the devastating 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, passed away on August 31 at his home in Cut Off, La. at the age of 65.

The cause of death was metastatic cancer, according to his father, Loyman Melancon.

For most of his life, Mr. Melancon cultivated oysters in the traditional way, dredging the shallow, brackish waters of the lower Mississippi River Delta with his own boat, My Melanie. At the end of each day, he would return with a boat full of oysters to sell to canneries and wholesalers.

Although it was physically demanding work, it was also lucrative. Mr. Melancon would sell up to 400 120-pound sacks of oysters per day, earning up to $15 per bag, which would be shipped globally.

However, the good days didn’t last. The oyster population began to decline due to rising sea levels, pollution, and erosion, making the region vulnerable to storm damage.

Even before the 2010 oil spill, Mr. Melancon sensed the decline of the oysters. Shortly after Hurricane Katrina, two-thirds of the oysters were lost, and in 2008 they began to recover only to be impacted again by the BP spill.

Feeling disheartened, Mr. Melancon considered quitting oystering until his friend Jim Gossen, a seafood wholesaler, introduced him to a new method of oyster farming being tested by Auburn University researchers in Alabama.

This alternative approach involved growing immature oysters in drums on land and then transferring them to cages in shallow water. With this method, the oysters reached full size in less than 10 months, compared to the usual five years it takes for wild oysters. They were not only faster to grow, but they also had a perfect shape and were visually appealing.

Mr. Melancon became the first oyster farmer in Louisiana to receive the alternative oyster culture license in 2014. He started supplying his high-quality oysters directly to renowned New Orleans restaurants like Brennan’s and Pêche, where they quickly gained popularity.

Unlike the generic Gulf Coast oysters, Mr. Melancon’s oysters had their own names and distinct flavors, offering customers a unique culinary experience.

Although Mr. Melancon achieved financial success with his innovative farming method, it wasn’t without challenges. He faced setbacks from Hurricane Ida in 2021 and a serious back injury while repairing storm damage.

Despite the difficulties, Mr. Melancon’s success inspired other oyster farmers to explore similar approaches, ensuring a future for their way of life.

Jules Chris Melancon was born on March 22, 1958, in Cut Off, Louisiana. He grew up in a tight-knit community and spoke Cajun French. He is survived by his mother, Mamie Lee, his wife Melanie, and his sisters Patti, Wendy, Tina, and Suzette.

In a Baylor University oral history interview in 2015, Mr. Melancon expressed his love for oystering and the freedom it provided. However, he also acknowledged the increasing pollution and irreversible changes to the land.


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