Program to monitor public ground oyster harvests

HOUMA (AP) — State officials are launching a pilot program to collect data on oyster harvests on public oyster grounds.

The Vessel Monitoring System program is part of an effort to better manage Louisiana's 1.6 million acres of public oyster

beds.

The Courier reported the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will provide tracking units to licensed oyster harvesters, with

costs limited to minimal maintenance and care.

The state is contracting with Pole Star

Space Applications, a fleet management and monitoring company, to

provide data collection

and work with owners to install the systems.

The Wildlife and Fisheries' Oyster Task Force and the Legislature approved the program. More than 700 vessels are permitted

to harvest on public oyster beds.

Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafood in

Houma and a member of the state's Oyster Task Force, said many private

oyster harvesters

use similar systems to keep track of their boats and product.

"The program will help the state to manage our public fisheries," he said. "We have to keep track of 1.6 million acres of

public oyster grounds from Sabine Lake to east of the Mississippi River."

With a vessel-monitoring device, wildlife

officials can track where harvesting is occurring and use trip tickets,

which fishermen

are required to file to report their catch to the state, to

determine how much is harvested. That means Wildlife and Fisheries

will have a better idea of where production is coming from and

which grounds are more productive. That knowledge will help

them to better manage the fishery, Voisin said.

Some oystermen have objected to the tracking devices out of privacy concerns. Officials say the information collected by the

program will be kept confidential.