Today was the first day of oyster fishing season in Calcasieu lake. But not everybody got a permit to fish. The West Cove of the lake is open for oyster fishing but only for the 126 commercial fishermen who got oyster permits.
The number was limited to help preserve the resource--but that doesn't make it any more acceptable to fishermen who did not get a permit.
It was a beautiful day to be on Calcasieu Lake fishing for oysters. And those with permits were having no trouble getting their ten sack limit. The problem is that many commercial fishermen who would normally be on the water cannot fish for oysters because they did not get one of the 126 permits issued. Several oyster fishermen who didn't get permits were hanging around the docks. Said Maurice Levere, "I oyster too but I didn't get a permit to go oystering this year. I think it's not right."
John Thompson has fished for oysters for 30 years, until this season. "It's a lot of stress and a lot of headaches. You wonder where your next paycheck is going to come from, you wonder how you're going to pay this, wonder how you're going to pay that. It's a lot of stress."
John Martin agrees. "Money wise, my light bill due, my rent due, car note due, insurance, food on the table."
The oysters are selling for about $25 a sack which means about $250 dollars a day gross for those fishing. Doug Short is one of the owners of Cameron Fisheries where they buy oysters. "It's hard to make a living when you go out and get ten sacks at $25 a sack for these fishermen."
He says the solution is to develop more oyster reefs so the industry can reach its potential. "We spent a lot of time over the last couple of years, we knew this was coming, fighting amongst ourselves, who has the right. What we should have been doing is putting our resources into figuring out how to grow the industry, finding money to make more beds, rotating our beds. Stuff like that should have been implemented and should be well underway and, to my knowledge, there's not much to date that's been done."
Before sacks are unloaded, licenses are verified and sacks tagged. It would be illegal to purchase oysters caught without a permit. Says Maurice, after eating an oyster fresh of one of the boats,"The oysters are very good this year. They're nice and firm, they're fat and they're very salty."
Wildlife and fisheries agents had stepped up patrols. Said Senior Agent Beau Robertson, "Everybody had their permits, everybody was in compliance this morning so it was a nice patrol." He says there were probably 30 boats on the lake this morning.
State Senator Blade Morrish agrees the law limiting the number of permits was a mistake and plans to try to get it changed next legislative session. He tried unsuccessfully to find a remedy for this season.