State helps oystermen buy equipment

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is offering up to $10,000 to help oyster harvesters buy refrigerators to comply with state and federal laws and regulations. Participants can get up to half the cost from the state.

Refrigeration units, cooler boxes, generators and other equipment associated with refrigeration are all eligible for reimbursement under the seafood technology and equipment program.

Oysters taken between May and October for raw consumption outside of Louisiana must be refrigerated within an hour of harvest at no more than 45 degrees. Some must maintain an internal temperature of 55 degrees within six hours of being pulled out of the water.

Before 2010, oysters had to be refrigerated within 10 hours of summer harvest.

The federal government tightened rules to fight vibrio vulnificus, bacteria that can be deadly to people with ulcers or immune system problems, and state fisheries officials say refrigeration is an important part of the Louisiana wild seafood certification program passed in 2010 and implemented this fall.

Oystermen say they cannot afford new equipment.

Oyster harvesters who bought such equipment starting Jan. 1, 2010, can get reimbursed if it meets program requirements; new equipment must be approved before purchase, authorities said.

“While this is a significant step forward for the industry, we understand that these funds are not enough. We continue to explore every available resource to direct additional funds toward this program and intend to create similar programs for other Louisiana fisheries,” said Randy Pausina, assistant secretary of the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

To apply, fishermen must contact the South Central Planning and Development Commission in Grey at (800) 630-3791 or (985) 655-1051

Pausina said priority will be given to vessels with refrigeration equipment installed before Oct. 1.