Before the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission settled into a near two-hour debate over taking oysters from Sabine Lake, the LWFC made a major change in the proposed 2012 spring turkey seasons during its monthly meeting Thursday at state Wildlife and Fisheries headquarters.

Acting on what Department of Wildlife and Fisheries game managers said were the wishes of turkey hunters across the state, the spring hunting seasons outlined in July called for a dramatic shift to a two-zone hunting plan.

For the first time ever, the plan was to have North and South Turkey Hunting Zones with three areas and different opening days in each zone.

After a meeting in Jonesboro earlier this week, State Turkey Study leader Jimmy Stafford told the commission there was enough concern about the new plan to shelve it in favor of a statewide opening day but keeping the three zones.

The area, listed as “A,” “B,” and “C” have different lengths depending on the density of turkeys in each area. Areas with longer hunting seasons have the most turkeys.

“We had lots of comments that were positive when we first announced the zones, but it came to our attention two weeks ago that there was a good bit of dissent in north Louisiana,” Stafford said.

Stafford said LDWF staff members held a public hearing and that “close to a hundred showed up.” He said groups that large indicate a plan is troubling to many more than those attending any hearing.

“Their biggest concern was not about the dates, but about the zone line,” Stafford said. “We left that meeting with that message that folks would be moving to public areas and hunting beyond what those public areas could handle.”

Stafford said managers were left with three single, statewide-opening annual options - the Saturday nearest March 22, the Saturday nearest March 29 or March’s fourth Saturday.

“We decided to put forth the fourth Saturday,” Stafford said. “That framework, over the years, will tap both the earlier seasons some hunters want and get into that later framework other hunters want.”

The LWFC approved the 2012 changes with Area A running from March 24 through April 22, Area B from March 24 through April 15 and Area C from March 24 through April 8. The Youth-only and Physically Challenged-only hunting weekend will be March 17-18, 2012.

The oyster discussion came after LDWF marine biologist Patrick Banks outlined suggested dates for taking oysters from public seed grounds spread across the state’s coast.

Banks proposed oyster-rich areas in Calcasieu Lake and Sabine Lake remain closed, a proposal that drew objections from State Oyster Task Force chair John Tesvich, oyster wholesaler Al Sunseri and commissioner Mike Voisin.

Sabine Lake, beset by water-quality problems and closed since 1956, has been cleared by the federal Food & Drug Administration and state agencies for the take of oysters. Banks said there are as many as 400,000 barrels of seed oysters and 800,000 barrels of sack oysters between the two lakes.

Banks said oyster drills have moved into the east side of Calcasieu Lake and the snail-like creatures have taken a toll of oysters there. He said the lake’s west side would be opened.

LDWF secretary Robert Barham told the oystermen that the state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority would not authorize the taking of oysters from Sabine Lake. Barham cited CPRA’s intent to study the vertical reef built by oysters in Sabine Lake as a source to coastal protection.

Advocates for that plan from the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, The Nature Conservancy and the National Audubon Society told the commission that the building oyster reef needed to be protected and studied.

The commission voted to accept Banks’ proposals.

In other commission action:

• Learned the LDWF is processing 488 oyster-lease applications made prior to a 2000 leasing moratorium;

e_SBlt Approved 2012 dates for removing abandoned crab traps in St. Bernard, Plaquemines and Terrebonne parishes;

e_SBlt Learned that Enforcement Division agents issued 1,127 citations and 515 written warnings during July;

e_SBlt And, set its January, 2012 meeting for Jan. 5.