Kevin Savoie, Chaney, John A. | 4/19/2005 10:29:05 PM
CAMERON – New regulations could boost the local economy by encouraging fishermen to harvest more oysters from the lower Calcasieu Lake.
More than 70 fishermen and industry leaders recently filled the Cameron Parish Police Jury meeting room for an Oct. 13 meeting designed to help them learn about the new oyster regulations. Many of them also took part in an Oct. 14 fishing tour designed to show the potential for oysters from the lake and to acquaint oyster buyers with local fishermen.
Both events were coordinated by the LSU AgCenter in cooperation with a variety of agencies and groups, including the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, local government officials, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, the Louisiana Sea Grant program and others involved in the oyster industry.
The new oyster regulations – Louisiana Act 479 from the 2004 state legislative session – were passed to allow fishermen to harvest oysters by dredging. The new regulations also increased the sack limit to 15 sacks per day.
"Dredging will help fishermen increase their oyster harvest and provide more time for culling and grading, which will increase the product quality," said LSU AgCenter natural resources agent Kevin Savoie. "And the increase in sack limits from 10 to 15 sacks per day will increase the economic benefits for the fishermen."
Stock assessments conducted by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries show abundant populations of oysters in the lower Calcasieu water bodies – although the harvest has continued to decrease in the past few decades. The harvest has fallen from more than 100,000 sacks per year to 18,000 sacks in the 2003-2004 season.
"Increasing the harvest through dredging should increase the quality of oysters in the lake," said Savoie, adding that dredging helps to cultivate the reef by breaking up clusters and hooked mussels.
About 60 percent of Louisiana oysters are sold on the half-shell, said Ewell Smith with the Louisiana Seafood, Promotion and Marketing Board, and oysters measuring 3 inches to 4 inches in diameter are preferred.
Louisiana leads other states in supplying oysters to consumers in this country. In 2003, the LSU AgCenter’s Louisiana Summary of Agriculture and Natural Resources reports the oyster harvest returned more than $60 million to fishermen in the state.
During the meetings this month, Tracy Mitchell with the Louisiana Oyster Task Force discussed the promotional programs the organization is using to market oysters in this country and abroad. She explained the cooking contests, trade shows, legislative events and promotional activities the group is sponsoring.
Mike Voisin, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, also assured fishermen there is a market for oysters.
"We can sell the oysters you catch, but we need good quality," Voisin said.
Recent hurricanes and tropical storms in the Gulf of Mexico have damaged some oyster reefs and reduced the fishing area.
The U.S. government is providing $9 million to repair the damage to the oyster reefs and to reseed the oyster beds damaged by Hurricane Ivan. About $1.5 million is marked for Louisiana, Voisin said.
"This is a good year to fill the voids in the market," said Voisin, adding that buyers need good quality oysters and in truckload quantities (350 to 400 sacks per truck).
Three large oyster buyers attended the meeting to visit with fishermen and learn about the potential oyster harvest from the Calcasieu Lake.
The oyster harvest season in the lower Calcasieu Lake runs from mid-October to the end of April with closures when the water level in the Calcasieu River exceeds 13.5 feet at Kinder and of the West Clove area of the lake when the water level rises to 7 feet.
The water level at Kinder was established by extensive testing of the water quality in the lake and correlating the data with river levels, according to Bruce Champion, shellfish water quality manager with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals.
He said fishermen are encouraged to call (800) 256-2775 to learn about the status of the openings and closure of the lake.
Oysters are filter feeders that sit on the bottom of a water body and pick up bacteria and pathogens from the water when feeding.
Naturally occurring bacteria in oysters, Vibrio vulnificus, may be harmful to at-risk consumers. People with certain health conditions such as diabetes, immune disorders, liver problems and other health problems are urged to consume only fully cooked oysters or those oysters that have been processed to reduce the bacteria to non-detectable levels.
"This is an opportunity for local fishermen to cooperate and rebuild the oyster fisheries and markets for Calcasieu Lake oysters," said Savoie.
For more information on the development of the fisheries industry or water quality issues, contact your parish LSU AgCenter office or visit www.lsuagcenter.com.