New model provides sustainable management tool for Louisiana’s oyster industry

By Alisha A. Renfro, Ph.D. and Maura Wood, National Wildlife Federation

On March 10, Louisiana Sea Grant hosted their annual Louisiana Oyster Industry Convention in Kenner, La. The convention brings together members of Louisiana’s oyster industry and trade organizations to meet one another and discuss important issues.

This year’s meeting focused on new oyster culture methods as alternatives to traditional wild-seed and on bottom production. Speakers from Maine, Maryland, Virginia and Alabama presented on how their states have adapted and revitalized their oyster industries, including how they handle permit applications, types of equipment used, dealing with disease and predation, and marketing their product. Speakers acknowledged that there is a definite difference in scale between oyster production in Louisiana and other states, but proposed some techniques and lessons that could be applied here.

Trawl full of Gulf Coast oysters.Credit: NOAA NCCOS

Tom Soniat of the University of New Orleans has developed a model that uses the retention of shell as a measure of oyster reef sustainability. Dr. Soniat reasons that if the reef is sustained, nature will take care of the rest. The model output calculates how much shell can be removed by fishing while still maintaining a sustainable reef. This model is dependent on a criterion for how much shell is needed for a sustainable reef and a good estimate of initial shell in the actual reef. Among the efforts to create and certify a high-quality product, using this model as a management tool could also ensure a sustainable product.

Other topics of discussion included product branding and Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan. The day finished up with Don Davis, Carl Brasseaux and Chris Senac talking about the history of oyster fishery in Louisiana, particularly Houma. Overall, it was an interesting conference and hopefully there will be more exploration of new techniques to adapt the Louisiana oyster fishery to future conditions.