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Louisiana has the highest annual oyster production among all states in the nation with landings generally falling in the 8–12 million pound range. With the addition of the value-added components (Keithly et al., 1988), the retail value estimates of the oyster harvest ranges from approximately 115 million dollars per year in Louisiana to 156 million dollars for the Gulf of Mexico Region. The Gulf of Mexico is the top shellfishproducing region in the nation, but as indicated in the preliminary results of the 1995 Shellfish Register of Classified Estuarine Waters, over half of the nine million acres of shellfish growing waters in the region have regulatory limitations on harvest (NOAA, 1996). Contamination of surface waterbodies by pathogens originating from nonpoint pollution sources increase harvest area closures, produce consumer health risks and adverse economic impacts to suppliers and consumers, and severely encumbers the entire oyster industry through loss of increasing demand per capita from fear of illness. Information obtained from geographical analysis of closed oyster harvesting areas in Barataria Basin indicates that between 195,000 and 325,000 acres of potentially harvestable waterbottoms were closed due to fecal coliform contamination or potential contamination from 1985–1992. The retail value estimates, with the addition of the value-added components, suggest that approximately 13.5 to 23 million dollars per year in Louisiana is lost due to harvest closures in the Barataria Basin alone.

The Shellfish Challenge Initiative is an interagency and interstate effort undertaken to establish progress on the Environmental Protection Agency's Gulf of Mexico Program Shellfish Challenge. With an overall goal of increasing Gulf shellfish beds available for safe harvest by ten percent, more than 200 experts in shellfish management, habitat restoration, and pollution control helped develop 32 shellfish restoration strategies targeting 24 watersheds in the Gulf of Mexico. Water quality improvements associated with the Shellfish Challenge have the opportunity to increase the harvestable supply of oysters from Louisiana waters and thus provide increased economic and health benefits to Louisiana and Gulf Coast residents. The Shellfish Challenge projects represent a robust set of restoration opportunities for the Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary and a set of watershed targeting strategies developed during the regional assessment that are beneficial to other restoration activities and watershed-specific initiatives.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2000

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