Whether they're deep-fried, baked or served on the half-shell, most of the oysters eaten by Americans start their journey to the gullet in the Gulf of Mexico.

But with the Gulf now awash in oil, the supply is down, prices are up, restaurants are going oyster-less, and there appears to be no quick fix to the crisis. After all, suppliers on the Atlantic Coast and in the Pacific Northwest can't simply make more oysters.

"In general, it takes us two to four years to grow oyster crops, so it's hard to respond when there's a surge in demand from something like this," said Bill Dewey of the Seattle area's Taylor Shellfish Co. "The Gulf, and Louisiana in particular, is the leading oyster-producing area in the country, and so when they go down it creates a huge void."

Louisiana's oyster industry has been brought to a standstill since oil began gushing into the Gulf in April. Oyster beds have been closed - mostly as a precaution - and fishermen have been put on oil spill duty.

Red Lobster said Tuesday it is taking oysters off its menus when its supply runs out in a few weeks. "Passing along a higher cost to our customers is something we're not going to do," said Rich Jeffers, a spokesman for the nationwide chain of 666 restaurants.

Though oysters are grown from the Northeast's Long Island Sound to Humboldt Bay in California, industry officials estimate that 60 to 70 percent of the oysters eaten in the U.S. come from the Gulf. Those Gulf oysters grow in submerged beds from Texas to Florida, with Louisiana accounting for more than half of the supply.

Mike Voisin of Motivatit Seafoods in Houma, La., said only a small fraction of Louisiana's roughly 7,500 miles of shoreline has been touched by oil.

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