More Oyster Leases Than Usual Canceled by Louisiana

BATON ROUGE (The Center Square) – The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has canceled oyster leases for dozens of owners for failing to pay rent.

“As per Louisiana Revised Statute 56:429, any lessee who pays their rent on or after the first day of February owes the rent due plus an additional 10 percent penalty,” according to a department statement. “If the lessee fails to pay the rent punctually before the first of each March, LDWF is required by law to terminate and cancel the lease, and the lessee forfeits to the department all the works, improvements, betterments and oysters on the water bottom.”

The department canceled a total of 44 leases covering 1,021 acres in four parishes: St. Bernard, Plaquemines, Terrebonne and Lafourche.

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A full list of delinquent oyster leases is available on the department’s website.

Marc Maniscalco, land manager for the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries who handles oyster leases, told The Center Square the number of canceled leases this year is much higher than a typical year but “it’s not necessarily related to inflation or indicative of the oyster industry as a whole.”

Maniscalco said Louisiana oyster leases run for 15 years, and the department normally cancels eight to 10 leases a year out of about 500 annual renewals.

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Because of a variety of factors, about 1,500 leases were up for renewal in 2022, and the influx translated into more delinquent leases than in the past, he said.

“Fifteen-hundred leases is three times our normal load for renewals,” he said. “I don’t think it was anything significant playing out.”

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries works with the Louisiana Office of State Lands, Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority to manage and collect annual payments for approximately 400,000 acres currently under lease.

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“Although water bottoms and oysters are technically the property of the state, leaseholders primarily manage the oyster resources on their private oyster leases as state law provides the lessee with exclusive use of the water bottom,” according to the Department of Wildlife and Fisheries website.

“Leaseholders are free to actively cultivate and harvest oysters on their leased acreage. They also maintain the right to be compensated for damages to the oyster resources on their lease from other private entities – other commercial fishermen, oil and gas operators, etc.”

The department is in the process of lifting a moratorium on issuing new oyster leases that began in 2002.

Legislation approved in 2016 takes a phased approach to lifting the oyster lease moratorium, and the department is currently in Phase 0, which involves review of oyster lease applications that were pending when the moratorium began.

Once complete, the department will move to review the reinstatement of 274 oyster leases that were not renewed because of effects from the Caernarvon freshwater diversion. A lottery for the general public to apply for an oyster lease is not expected until Phase IV, and any new leases will not come until the final Phase V.

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