LWFC opens door for different oyster-growing methods

GRAND ISLE The state’s second venture into aquaculture took a second big step Thursday when the Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries Commission approved a Notice of Intent for Alternative Oyster Culture permits.

Spurred by the passage of Act 293 of the 2012 Louisiana Legislature, the AOC program will allow oyster growers to use different methods of raising oysters to marketable size.

The move is designed to grow oysters “other than directly on reefs or other water bottoms,” according to the approved notice.

Notably, the program will allow off-the-bottom cultivation by using lines, bags and/or floating or suspended cages to grow oysters. The program will also allow cages and other devices to settle on the bottom of state-owned waterbottom oyster leases.

The LWFC’s approval drew fire from at least one user group: shrimpers.

Lafitte shrimper Clint Guidry, president of the Louisiana Shrimp Association, told the commission that he is not opposed to the oyster industry or steps to help production, but that the rules contained in the notice are not specific enough, and that there needed to be more regulations covering other groups using the nearly 400,000 acres of state-owned water bottoms currently leased to oyster growers.

“This legislation (Act 293) affects all user groups of Louisiana waters,” Guidry said. “My concern (for shrimpers) is that it’s just one more thing in the water that somebody can hit, and that’s a problem.

“We fish (trawl) at night, during the day and in bad weather, and if these areas are not properly marked, that’s a problem,” Guidry said.

Guidry said more information is needed to determine how many oyster leaseholders will participate before the state “... opens up all state waters from Texas to Mississippi.” He said he was also concerned about foreign investors taking over oyster leases.

Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist and program manager Cole Garrett said regulations in the plan will limit the size of the new growing areas to 2,000 feet in any direction, or 90 acres, and that program participants will be mandated to mark these areas with 3-12 foot high buoys.

Garrett said the notice effectively authorizes oyster farming in state waters and not all state water bottoms will be open, notably those pose a hazard to navigation.

He said “suitability” maps, areas that could be used for the program, are posted on the LDWF’s website, http://www.wlf.loouisiana.gov.

Garrett added that prospective participants must first obtain a coastal use permit from the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources to begin the process.

The notice will be posted in the State Register, will have a public comment period into February 2013 and could return to the LWFC for ratification at its March 7, 2013, meeting in Baton Rouge.

In other action:

The LWFC learned that a five-judge panel voted former Baton Rouge artist Ron Louque’s painting of a mallard drake and hen to serve as the state’s 2013-2014 Waterfowl Stamp;

Learned that upland game biologist Fred Kimmel received the year’s top technical award from the Southeast Association of Game Agencies for his research on wild turkeys; and

Learned that state Enforcement Division agents issued 1,037 citations and 390 written warnings during October. Among the citations were two issued in East Baton Rouge and East Feliciana parishes for illegally taking deer at night. The division’s report included the first month of 2012, when there were no boating fatalities in the state. The state’s boating fatality count for 2012 stands at 28, down from 34 through the first nine months of 2011.