Oysters will dominate the discussion during Thursday’s Wildlife and Fisheries Commission meeting.
It’s a prediction made without that expensive crystal ball purchased years ago when the sports staff picked weekly (sometimes weakly) college football games.
Whenever there are three “oyster” agenda items, it’s easy to know oystermen will turn out in force.
Although Sabine Lake isn’t on the agenda, another non-crystal ball prediction is that this ongoing battle will surface during the 3-4 hours that make up each of the LWFC’s monthly meetings.
Here’s why: Poor water quality kept Sabine Lake under federal and state closures for years. During that extended period, oysters flourished to the point where life cycles of this marine organism built a reef.
Mostly because it wasn’t touched, this building reef became more than a reef. It became the only structure of its kind in the state and the South. Some marine biologists believe this vertically building reef might be the only one in the country, possibly in North America and the Western Hemisphere.
Coastal restoration advocates believe the miles-long reef has protected Sabine Lake so much so that it’s the main reason the lake, in the state’s southwestern corner, is free from the effects of coastal land-loss that had plagued the state’s entire coast for the last 80 years.
Groups like the Louisiana Wildlife Federation, the National Wildlife Federation, CCA Louisiana, the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and The Nature Conservancy have lined up to preserve this unique structure.
Now that the lake’s water quality has improved to the point where federal and state sanctions have been lifted, oystermen see this structure as an untapped resource, one that can boost their ability to get oysters to the market.
The commercial oyster operations are fighting the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, too, but not for the same reasons as the conservation groups.
Louisiana shares Sabine Lake with Texas. After years of arguing, the two states hammered out an agreement to manage fish and other marine creatures in border lakes like Sabine, Toledo Bend and Cross Lake. The agreement takes effect Thursday. And it appears, Texas doesn’t want anyone tinkering with Sabine Lake oysters.
There’s another problem here that goes beyond conservation groups, oystermen and two state agencies.
Has anyone considered that the oysters, a filter feeder, have been a major factor in restoring the overall health of Sabine Lake?
Those many years of oysters dying built this reef, and those now-dead oysters paved the way for continued growth of their offspring, which filtered water and died, and bettered the environs for their offspring.
Maybe there are lessons to be learned from this now healthy, living organism.