Local areas may be oyster-seed grounds

By AMY WOLD
February 12, 2000
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Terrebonne Parish could see the addition of four new oyster-seed grounds this year if the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission moves forward with a recent notice of intent.

The commission approved a notice of intent at its Feb. 3 meeting to designate portions of Terrebonne Parish's Mechant, Tambour, Chien and Felicity lakes as oyster-seed grounds.

Such grounds help supply oyster "farmers" with the necessary "seeds" to improve their existing oyster-bed leases or to start new oyster fields. Oystermen lease specific acres of water bottoms from the state.

Mechant lies in southwest Terrebonne about 17 miles due west of Cocodrie and the other three lakes are near each other in a southeastern section of the parish about 10 to 15 miles east of Cocodrie.

Lafourche Parish's Deep Lake and Jefferson Parish's Barataria Bay also were named in the commission's notice. At least one of the listed areas has seen previous activity as an oyster seed-producing area. Back in the 1950s, Lake Felicity was designated as an oyster-seed ground.

Later, the lake's salinity levels rose to the point where the area no longer could support oyster growth, so Felicity was abandoned, according to Martin Bourgeois, biologist supervisor with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

However, Bourgeois said, future freshwater diversion projects could restore the area's oyster seed-producing capabilities.

The six proposed areas would give oystermen in the central part of the state closer access to oyster-seed grounds, Bourgeois said.

"When we look at the locations of oyster seed grounds, we just have Bay Junop and Sister Lake essentially," Bourgeois said. Those two areas contain about 10,000 acres of oyster-seed beds, and a third area, Hackberry Bay in Lafourche Parish, adds another 5,000 acres.

The 15,000 acres isn't much, compared with the millions of available oyster-seed acres east of the Mississippi River, Bourgeois said.

As much as 80 percent of Louisiana's oyster production between the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers is dependent on seed oysters taken from oyster-seed grounds, according to Wildlife and Fisheries.

Due to the small amount of oyster-seed acreage between the two rivers, oystermen often must travel to oyster-seed beds east of the Mississippi River.

Designating the new areas only is the first step in getting them ready for seed-oyster production and harvests, Bourgeois said.

If the rule becomes effective, he said, the next step will be to mark oyster-bed boundaries, map the water bottoms and begin monitoring salinity levels.

"Then we kind of wait for some money to do something," Bourgeois said. What the department may do, he said, is experiment with one-acre reefs in each of the areas, monitoring their productivity before expanding them.

"Then we can work on improving those habitats," Bourgeois said. "There are some natural reefs associated with every one of (the newly designated areas), but they're not extensive."

To improve the ability of areas to produce oysters, bedding material is placed on the hard areas of water-bottom ridges. However, finding material could be a problem: Oyster shells aren't as available as they used to be. The oyster shell provides a steady base for oyster spat to attach and grow without the risk of sinking into soft, muddy areas.

Written public comments on the proposal to designate the six areas as additional oyster-seed grounds will be accepted until May 5. Comments should be addressed to Ron Dugas, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, 1600 Canal St., Suite 306, New Orleans, LA 70112.

Amy Wold is a staff writer at The Courier. She can be reached at