The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) is lifting the long-standing oyster lease moratorium, which has been in effect since 2002.
The moratorium, which halted LDWF’s practice of leasing state-owned water bottoms to private entities for oyster cultivation, was originally instituted by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission at the request of the Department of Natural Resources and the Governor’s Office under former Governor Mike Foster.
The decision to lift the moratorium on Feb. 4 is based on new rules and regulations approved by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission on August 2, 2019. LDWF staff worked with the Louisiana Oyster Task Force and the task force’s oyster lease moratorium sub-committee, and various coastal stakeholders, to develop the Notice of Intent (proposed rule change) passed by the Commission.
The Oyster Task Force is a group established to monitor the oyster industry and to make recommendations that maximize benefits from that industry to the state and coordinate efforts to increase oyster production and stability.
Other entities, including the state Attorney General’s office, the Office of State Lands, Oil and Gas firms, and private landowner groups participated in meetings before the final document was drafted and presented to the Commission.
“Lifting the oyster lease moratorium is important for the industry as it will allow oystermen to diversify oyster growing locations within estuaries and adapt to environmental changes,” LDWF Secretary Jack Montoucet said.
The moratorium was established in 2002 because of user conflicts within the coastal zone, especially as it related to coastal restoration activities performed by the state and lawsuits filed by oyster industry members in response to coastal restoration projects. The moratorium was requested and approved in order to limit the state’s liability in future lawsuits related to coastal restoration.
Through Acts 570 and 595 enacted in 2016, the Louisiana State Legislature established a phased approach to lifting the oyster lease moratorium and resolve user conflicts. The phases are:
- Phase 0 (Current Phase ) – Pre-Moratorium Lease Applications Are Processed
- LDWF, the Office of State Lands (OSL), and the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) will review oyster lease applications that were being processed when the oyster lease moratorium began. There are currently 35 applications that will be reviewed prior to the state issuing a lease agreement.
- Phase I – Right of First Refusal for Non-Renewed Avenal Leases
- Leaseholders of a group of 274 oyster leases that were not renewed due to impacts from the Caernarvon fresh water diversion may apply for reinstatement of their lease(s).
- Phase II – Incorporation of Adjacent Water Bottoms
- Lessees may apply to expand an existing lease to incorporate immediately adjacent water bottoms not currently under lease.
- Phase III – Right of First Refusal for Lessees under Private Lease
- Lessees may record any privately-issued lease in effect as of February 1, 2016, with LDWF. These leases will be reviewed and portions of the lease may be converted into a state lease agreement.
- Phase III information should be submitted as soon as possible to avoid any potential conflicts.
- Phase IV – First Lottery Phase
- A lottery for the right to apply for an oyster lease opens to the general public.
- Phase V – Second Lottery Phase
- A second lottery may be held if LDWF feels it is warranted.
Please note that any individual wishing to participate in Phase III of the moratorium lifting process should begin submitting the appropriate documentation to LDWF and OSL at this time.
additional information about the Phase 0 Applicants can be found at https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/page/oyster-lease-moratorium-lifting.
General information about the commercial oyster fishery, including stock assessments, licensing, maps and regulations, can be found at https://www.wlf.louisiana.gov/subhome/commercial-oyster.
For answers about the oyster lease moratorium lifting process, please contact Marc Maniscalco, Oyster Lease Program Manager, at (504) 284-5277 or 504-284-5279.