- Associated Press - Monday, February 10, 2014

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A draft of proposed legislation to lift the moratorium on new oyster leases in Louisiana doesn’t even have a sponsor yet, but two provisions in it are raising the ire of the oyster industry.

One provision would require bidding for new leases instead of the current process of leasing these state-owned water bottoms for $2 an acre per year for 15 years.

The New Orleans Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/1cocG7C ) a second provision would allow the state to terminate a lease after four years if there hasn’t been any legitimate oyster-related work done on the lease during that time.

“We’re asking for the moratorium to be lifted, but we’re asking them to pay market price,” Lawrence Marino, outside counsel for the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, told the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Coastal Protection, Restoration and Conservation meeting in New Orleans.

John Tesvich, chairman of the Louisiana Oyster Task Force, said members who attended the group’s legislative committee had an immediate “visceral and impassioned” reaction to the proposals.

“This cry came from an oyster industry that is already on its knees,” he said.

The moratorium on new oyster leases was put in place by the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission in 2002 in the wake of a major lawsuit from oystermen over damage they said was caused by the operation of the Caernarvon Freshwater Diversion located near the St. Bernard-Plaquemines parish line.

In 2008, the state Legislature directed the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission to develop rules to lift the moratorium. All but two of the recommendations could be done by rule, Marino said.

Attempts to get legislative action on the two items, including compromise revisions among oyster, oil and gas interests and landowners, were made in 2011, 2012 and 2013. But opposition came from attorneys representing oystermen involved in litigation over the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, who feared the moratorium compromises would interfere with their efforts, Marino said.

The proposals being presented this year to oyster and coastal groups would make two changes: requiring that new leases be put up for bid and authorizing the state to terminate a lease for inaction.

Marino said bidding would make the leases subject to the market and allow new people to get into the oyster industry. He also pointed out that leases are sometimes resold for anywhere between $100 and $1,000 an acre by lease holders.

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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