Oyster fishermen protest limit on permits

JENNINGS, LA (KPLC) - Oyster fishermen staged a protest this morning in front of a state senator's office in Jennings. They oppose a law sponsored by Senator Blade Morrish limiting how many fishermen can get oyster permits for Calcasieu lake.

The state senator admits he made a mistake with the bill, now law,  that limits oyster permits to 126 fishermen. He says he'll fix it but maybe not in time for this year's season.

About thirty fishermen and seafood business people protested, complaining about the new law that limits oyster permits issued to 126 fishermen. They say it's taking away their livelihoods.

Fisherman and seafood processor Charlie Breaux says, "Everybody's gotta make a living and they' taking all these people's jobs." Oyster fisherman Philip Lejeune agrees. "What they done is they took my living from me. How am I supposed to support my family."

The fishermen say everyone should have an equal chance to fish for oysters in the part of Calcasieu Lake during the season. Fisherman Phillip Dyson had this suggestion. "Give everybody here a permit that ain't got a permit and let the game wardens do their job. Check the oysters, make sure they're culling them. And pass a ten sack limit and enforce it. Ain't gonna make no money with no permit."

Morrish says he was only trying to protect the resource and admits the law in place needs to be changed. "I was trying to do something good and it turned out to be bad. I actually called the governor's office and asked them to veto the bill, but the governor had signed it the day before."

Next year the law will likely do away with a limit on the number of permits and instead leave it to Wildlife and Fisheries to protect the resource by adjusting sack limits as needed. Explains Morrish, "Limit it to one person, one vessel, one limit. And then Wildlife and Fisheries can set the limit. They essentially closed the whole lake. They left West Cove open and they may have said, 'okay, if we're going to have, instead of 126 people fishing, we're going to have 250 fishing, we'll limit it to five sacks."

The oyster fishing season begins November first in Calcasieu Lake. And a lot of the fishermen here say they have licenses and they'll be fishing for oysters with or without a permit. One is Lejeune.  He told us, "I'm going oystering regardless. I have a family to feed and they're not going to tell me I ain't going. I been doing this all my life."

Morrish says he's trying to see if anything can be done to remedy the situation in time for this year's oyster season. "I think they've been wronged and it's my fault." Morrish says he'll let us know if they come up with any solution for this year's oyster season in Calcasieu Lake.

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