Oyster season opens; experts expect good harvests

Published 4:49 pm Friday, September 7, 2007

As oyster season opened in many public waters, seafood experts forecast a good year for eastern areas that have had limited success since Hurricane Katrina.

“We’re excited about the season. We’re excited to be back,” said Mike Voisin, Louisiana Oyster Task Force president and owner of Motivatit Seafood in Houma.

The yield in southeastern beds that opened Wednesday is expected to be as good as or better than harvests before the storm, he said.

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More than one-third of all oysters consumed in the United States are from Louisiana waters, and the harvest is a $250 million-a-year business.

Public oyster beds in eastern Louisiana, which are mostly in open water, were hit hard by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, both of which hit in 2005. Millions in fisheries-relief money helped clean hurricane debris from public and private beds, level out the bottoms and seed the oysters, Voisin said.

Public oyster grounds received about $25 million in relief, and oyster farmers received up to $60 million in relief to repair their beds, he added.

The four reproductive cycles immediately after the storm were excellent, and the first two or three were unusually fruitful, Voisin said.

“I can only equate it to some sort of survival technique,” Voisin said. “This year we will see the benefits of that. Next year we could see even more oysters than we did before the storm.”

Oyster fisheries in Terrebonne and Lafourche didn’t suffer a significant hit from Katrina or Rita, and Voisin said parish oyster beds were fished to sustain the market while the eastern bays and lakes recovered.

As a result, local fisheries may not open for harvests until as late as October, Voisin said.

Bays across the rest of the state, including Black Bay, American Bay, and California Bay in the east, should remain open until April.

The Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board has a new tongue-in-cheek campaign for Louisiana restaurants, playing on the bivalve’s reputation as an aphrodisiac.

“It’s a lighthearted and fun approach to promoting our oysters,” Marketing Board Director Ewell Smith said.