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Nick Collins, a fourth-generation oysterman, tends the reefs that his great-grandfather, Levi Collins, Sr., built in Caminada Bay around the turn of the last century. Back then, Levi Collins lived where he trapped and fished—on the barrier island of Chénière Caminada, which lies almost within shouting distance of Grand Isle. He traveled by boat to the French Market in New Orleans to sell his oysters. Eventually the family moved inland, to Golden Meadow, where Nick lives and Collins Oyster Company operates today, but they still stayed at a camp on Chénière during the summers (shrimping season) when Nick was young.
Nick learned oystering from his father, Wilbert Collins. Of six siblings, many of whom lend a hand in the business, he is the one who has made oystering his life’s work. It’s where he always knew he belonged.
Along with the oysters that he famously farms in Caminada Bay—hauling them from other places to thrive and grow fat quickly in the bay’s particular salinity and currents—he also fishes wild oysters on the west side of Bayou Lafourche. Those are the leases that Collins Oyster Company currently relies upon for income, as the Caminada Bay oysters on the east side of the bayou were killed off following 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the subsequent freshwater diversion. In this interview, Nick focuses heavily on the oil spill and the hardships that it wrought on his family’s business. At the time of the interview, in 2011, Nick was the company’s only paid employee.