July 18, 2011 05:29 PM

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is in the process of developing a system to determine which commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest oysters from one of Louisiana's last naturally-occurring reefs.

The state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is in the process of developing a system to determine which commercial fishermen will be allowed to harvest oysters from one of Louisiana's last naturally-occurring reefs.

While the details are still being formulated, half of the available permits for Lake Calcasieu will be issued on the basis of first-come, first-serve.

Oyster interests and lawmakers from the western coastline initially wanted to limit permits to only those fishermen who have worked Lake Calcasieu in the past. But industry insiders convinced the Legislature to open it up to all.

They argued that the entire industry deserved a shot at the lake, especially due to the recent challenges posed by last year's oil spill and the record river flooding. Gov. Bobby Jindal agreed and signed legislation to get the new permitting process moving.

Lake Calcasieu has faced a variety of challenges over the years, from small crops to health closures. It went from a production level of 100,000 sacks annually during the 1980s to roughly 20,000 sacks by the turn of 2000.

Local businesses, fishermen and buyers formed the Calcasieu Oyster Task Force in response and ­- following efforts that actually expanded the natural reef - harvest totals tipped 63,000 sacks in 2009.

The Wildlife and Fisheries Commission will soon issue applications for permits, probably later this fall, with the first 63 going to "any person who has legally harvested oysters from Calcasieu Lake since January 1, 2001, as evidenced by trip-ticket records." The remaining 63 permits will be issued to anyone who currently holds all necessary licenses for the commercial harvest of oysters.