BATON ROUGE, LA (WVUE) - Several bills enacted during the spring 2016 Louisiana legislative session have a significant impact on state oyster harvesters. In response, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has put together a summary of these important changes to the 2017 commercial oyster regulations so harvesters can prepare.
Most notable is the Oyster Harvester License Training Requirements (Act 276), which will require ALL oyster harvesters to complete an education program before applying for their 2017 oyster harvester license. This program consists of an in-depth training video, which all harvesters must watch in full and answer the accompanying questions with a minimum score of 80 percent. Harvesters will be required to take this program every three years.
"This oyster harvester education program is actually a mandate from the National Shellfish Sanitation Program - a federal/state cooperative program for the sanitary control of shellfish produced and sold for human consumption," said Darren Bourgeois, Fisheries Extension, Educational Program Manager, Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries. "The video, produced by our Louisiana Fisheries Forward initiative, meets NSSP requirements by presenting best practices in harvest, handling and transportation practices."
Fishermen harvesting on natural reefs and public harvest areas should be aware of two new changes in the law. The New Gear Restrictions (Act 133) changed the name of certain gear 'dredges,' which should now be called 'scrapers.' The act also limited the size and use of scrapers on public harvest areas and Public Oyster Seed Grounds: scrapers must not be more than 54 inches in width (Calcasieu Lake maximum scraper width is 36 inches) measured along the tooth bar; cannot weigh more than 175 pounds; and diving boards, hydrofoils, or any other equipment intended to create downward pressure is now illegal (these changes apply to all public harvest areas and POSGs, including those in Calcasieu Lake). Scraper teeth cannot be longer than 5 inches, with a minimum of 2¼ inch spacing from the center of one tooth to the next. A tooth shall not exceed 11/16 of an inch in diameter. No more than two scrapers can be in use on any one vessel on public oyster grounds. An oyster scraper bag must be single mesh with a minimum mesh size of 3 inches stretched.
Changes to the POSG Permit (Act 291) bring about a fee increase, which will fund the Public Oyster Seed Ground Development Account. The permit cost for a single scraper vessel will be $250 for a resident and $1,000 for a non-resident. A double scraper vessel will be $500 for a resident and $2,000 for a non-resident. New POSG vessel permit applications will be accepted once a professionalism program is developed; this professionalism program should be complete by 2018.
New laws are also in place regarding leasing practices and the oyster lease moratorium. Leasing Practices for Oyster Harvest (Act 570) have changed, such that water bottoms claimed by both the state and a private claimant may now be leased for oyster harvest when LDWF and the private claimant agree to do so. This agreement does not indicate or determine ownership, and the lease is only in effect until a court rules on the ownership claim. This law recognizes those oyster leases issued by private claimants on dual claimed water bottoms in effect and properly recorded as of February 1, 2016, as valid, such that harvest off of those state claimed water bottoms by the private lessee is legal.
The Legislature has amended the oyster leasing application process, provided for subordination between new oyster leases and existing coastal activities, and established preferential rights for Lifting the Moratorium on Oyster Leases in phases (Act 595):
Phase 1: Certain identified oyster lessees who did not renew leases due to predicted coastal restoration activities get first priority in these areas.
Phase 2: Lease expansion. Lessees may take up space between shore and lease or lease and lease up to 500′ (CPRA can require a shoreline buffer).
Phase 3: Holders of privately issued oyster leases on water bottoms who are claimed by the state and a private claimant get first priority in these areas.
Phase 4: Open lottery – any applicant eligible to hold an oyster lease may submit a single lottery entry and will be randomly assigned an appointment priority to apply for a single lease. (Phase 4 not to be immediately implemented) .
Phase 5: Second open lottery if deemed necessary.
After Phase 5, the moratorium on oyster leasing will be fully lifted and applications will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you have general questions concerning oyster management please contact Steven Beck at (225) 765-2956 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you have questions concerning the oyster harvester education program, please contact Darren Bourgeois at (504) 284-2033.