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Home > Resources & Publications > Newsletters & Magazines > Chenier Ecology > 2010 > 4-10

Resources & Publications:  Chenier Ecology

April 2010

Calcasieu Oyster Initiative Reaps Success

After several years of planning meetings, changes to regulations and support of the local oyster industry, an initiative to increase harvest and market value of the Calcasieu Lake oyster fishery is reaping benefits. Oyster harvesting from the area had fallen from more than 100,000 sacks in the early ‘80s to less than 20,000 sacks in the early years of this decade.

Normally, one would suspect a problem with the stock or other resource issues. However in this case, the problem was a marketing and availability issue. Over the years, frequent health closures made it difficult for dealers to hold on to markets. Intermittent supply caused wholesale customers to seek more reliable sources. All the while, oyster stock assessments showed the resource to be quite robust. In an effort to boost the local economy and stabilize the Calcasieu oyster industry, a local committee was formed to try and work through some of the problems. The Calcasieu Oyster Task Force was formed of local fishermen, buyers and businessmen. Also working with the task force was the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), Louisiana Sea Grant, Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals (LDHH) and Cameron Parish Police Jury.

Several changes have come about over the years through the efforts of all parties involved. In December 2005, after extensive sampling by LDHH, an additional area was opened on the Lower Calcasieu portion of the harvest area. In 2006, legislation was passed allowing dredging in Calcasieu for the first time in many years. That same year the sack limit increased to 15 per day. The benefit of dredging oyster reefs goes far beyond saving the backs of fishermen. Dredges in Calcasieu are limited to 36 inches wide. These lightweight dredges only remove the top layer of oysters. Dredging breaks up clusters and reduces the amount of hooked mussels which set on oysters and reduce quality and hamper growth. Dredging also increases reef area, by slowly spreading shell and oysters out during the dredging process. This allows more area for spat set during subsequent spawns.

Also, when fishermen stop and cull through the undersized oysters (3-inch minimum) and shell, these are returned to the lake to become part of the reef bottom. Dredging oysters also improves quality over time by reducing hooked mussels. An oyster’s natural defense to being rolled around by dredges or rough water is to deepen its shell. This is known in the industry as cupping. Cupped shells produce thick, meaty oysters of high quality.

During the 2009-2010 seasons more than 100 fishermen worked Calcasieu Lake’s reefs. Some of the increased harvest was due to many people being out of work during the economic downturn. But, some of the increase was due to the high demand for quality oysters which fetched record prices for Calcasieu Lake oysters of $20 to $32 per sack. Hopefully, with continued monitoring and good management, this resource will continue to grow and support local fishermen and improve the reef areas of Calcasieu Lake, which are also known by recreational fishermen as excellent fishing spots.

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