Precautionary closures protect human health; relocation of oysters helps prevent further damage to commercial industry
May 13, 2011 -- Today Louisiana officials announced precautionary closures of two oyster harvesting areas that are receiving large amounts of freshwater intrusion from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway and from the Mississippi River.
Officials also announced that oysters in some areas east of the Mississippi River may be relocated from beds that will be inundated with fresh water to other seed grounds or oyster leases out of the way of the flood waters coming through the spillway into Lake Pontchartrain and into the Gulf of Mexico. A special permit is required for relocation of oysters from an area closed for traditional harvest to an area specifically for bedding purposes. The permit is not required if the harvest area is open for harvest.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is closing oyster harvest areas 1 and 7. The closures will take effect at sunset, Saturday, May 14, 2011. Area 1 is in Lake Borgne in Orleans and St. Bernard parishes, and Area 7 in Plaquemines Parish. Both oyster harvesting areas are on the east side of the Mississippi river.
Louisiana State Health Officer, Jimmy Guidry, M.D., and Department of Health and Hospitals Secretary Bruce D. Greenstein signed the orders today. The closures will remain in effect until officials are able to verify the safety of the resource for human consumption.
DHH is monitoring all impacted oyster beds and doing routine water testing to ensure public health. State officials have notified local oyster harvesters that work in the affected areas, as well as the Louisiana Oyster Task Force.
A special bedding-only season has also been announced by state officials today. At an emergency Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting, the commission voted to open a special "bedding-only" oyster season for public seed grounds in the Lake Borgne and Mississippi Sound area in St. Bernard Parish. The special season, which will open at one-half hour before sunrise on Saturday, May 14, 2011 and shall close at one-half hour after sunset on May 31, will allow the oyster industry an opportunity to relocate oysters ahead of possible freshwater impacts from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
This special oyster season allows the harvest of seed oysters for bedding purposes only in the public oyster seed grounds within:
- Harvest area 1
- Harvest area 2
- That portion of Harvest area 3 located north of a line of latitude 30 degrees 00 minutes 00.0 seconds N and east of a line of longitude 89 degrees 22 minutes 50.0 seconds W.
The special "bedding-only" season described above shall be opened with the following provisions:
1. All oysters on board a vessel actively harvesting oysters in the public seed grounds described above shall be presumed to have been taken from the public seed grounds described above.
2. No oyster harvester who is actively harvesting oysters in the public seed ground described above shall have on board his vessel any sacks or containers which may be used to hold oysters for transport to market.
3. No harvester shall sell, or transport with his vessel, oysters intended for market sales on the same day that he harvested seed oysters from the public seed grounds described above.
Harvestable quantities of oyster resources exist on these public oyster seed grounds. The opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway places those resources in imminent peril. As significant oyster mortalities could be experienced due to the anticipated depression, the special season is a necessary step to protect and preserve Louisiana's oyster resources.
The Commission gave the Secretary of the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, Robert Barham, authorization to take emergency action as necessary to open or close public oyster areas based on the best available biological data.
Beginning Sunday, May 15, 2011, harvesters that seek to participate in the oyster relocation or "bedding-only" season in Harvest Area 1 must have a special permit that requires notification of where transplanted oysters will be relocated. A permit is not required on Saturday, May 14, 2011, because Harvest Area 1 will still be open. Oysters harvested and relocated to a new lease may not be harvested for consumption or for the public marketplace for at least 14 days -- ample time for the oysters to filter any contaminants. Permits can be obtained at the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Public Health Commercial Seafood Program, located at 628 North 4th St., room 156, in downtown Baton Rouge. The special permit requires a $5,000 bond.
The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals strives to protect and promote health statewide and to ensure access to medical, preventive and rehabilitative services for all state citizens. To learn more about DHH, visit http://www.dhh.louisiana.gov . For up-to-date health information, news and emergency updates, follow DHH's blog, Twitter account and Facebook page.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is charged with maintaining and protecting Louisiana's abundant natural resources. For more information, visit us at www.wlf.Louisiana.gov , on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/ldwffb  or follow us on Twitter @LDWF.
For emergency updates from the State of Louisiana, visit emergency.louisiana.gov or follow along on Twitter at @GOHSEP and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gohsep.