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The origins of Louisiana conservation.

The first record of the predecessor agency of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries dates back to 1857 when Louisiana's General Assembly (the Legislature) passed a law designed to protect game birds in St. Bernard Pirish. Control of this law was given to the Police Jury

Later, as New Orleans, one of Louisiana's earliest and largest cities, grew, supportive industries developed nearby. One of the most desirable commodities produced was oysters, both for local consumption and for shipping. Demand soon exceeded supply and more and more people utilized nearby oyster reefs to satisfy this demand.

In 1870, because of numerous complaints that oyster reefs in coastal Louisiana were being rapidly depleted and destroyed, the oyster season Act 18, which closed the oyster season from I April to 15 September, and provided penalties for taking oysters. In 1871, Act 91 reduced the oyster season closure from 1 May to 15 September.

The first concerted attempt by the state to regulate the oyster industry occurred in 1886 with the passage of Act 106. Patterned after legislation in Maryland, the act divided the state into three oyster districts and authorized the governor to appoint an Oyster Commissioner for each district. The act also authorized the leasing of waterrbottoms (3 acres per person) to individuals or corporations and established licenses enabling lessors to harvest and protect their oysters and reefs. Although state laws were now in effect, enforcement was difficult because the local judiciary was responsible for apprehension and punishment of violators.

Act 110 of 1892 abolished the three oyster districts and gave individual parishes exclusive jurisdiction of the waters within each parish. Each parish appointed its own oyster inspector and required its own license. Oysters occurring in each parish were considered parish property and only parish residents were allowed to harvest them. This led to even greater conflicts because of competition and unmarked parish boundaries in open water areas. Enforcement, which continued to be ineffective because of local politics, compounded the problem. The act also increased to 10 acres the amount of waterbottom available for leasing to one person.

In 1900, the legislature, realizing the ineffectiveness of the current oyster policy, appointed a legislative investigative commission composed of two senators and three representatives to study the industry. Their report to the General Assembly in 1902 resulted in the adoption of Act 153 which created a five-member Oyster Commission of Louisiana and gave it statewide control over the industry. The commission, which first met on 11 August 1902, later became the Oyster, Waterbottoms, and Seafood Division, the first and therefore oldest division of the Department.

The plight of our once abundant natural oyster beds was not the only thing coming under scrutiny around the turn of the century Led by President Theodore Roosevelt, a national conservation movement was gaining strength. This interest in conservation was brought together at the Conference of Governors called by President Roosevelt at the White House on 13-15 May 190& In calling the conference, Roosevelt stated: "There is no other question now before the nation of equal gravity with the question of the conservation of our natural resources."

In response to a call by Roosevelt, and at the insistence of the late Governor John M. Parker, a friend and hunting companion of the president, the 1908 Louisiana General Assembly created, by virtue of Act Z78, the Board of Commissioners for the Protection of Birds, Game, and Fish. This board was given authority to appoint game wardens and fund their activities by requiring licenses of everyone who hunted game.

The first headquarters for this new agency was New Orleans, because of the importance of this area to commercial fishermen. Oysters, shrimp, fish, furbearers, and waterfowl were then in great demand. Ice and railroad transportation facilities were available in New Orleans, and waterways connecting the city with the marsh areas allowed quick delivery and distribution to northern markets.

Under Act 265 of 1910, the Oyster Commission of Louisiana was consolidated with the Board of Commissioners for the Protection of Birds, Game, and Fish, and new officers were appointed to administer its affairs. This Commission, immediately began a thorough investigation of the oyster industry of the state and a new system of management.

In 1912, Act 127 consolidated all activities under the name "Conservation Commission of Louisiana." This commission was constitutionally created as a department of the State Government, provided for the necessary employees and defined their duties and qualifications in relation to the protection of birds, fish, shellfish, wild quadrupeds, forestry, and mineral resources of the state.

This act was amended by Act 105 of 1918, which stated "the Department of Conservation is hereby created. It shall be controlled by an officer to be known as the Commissioner of Conservation. The Commission shall be appointed by the Governor, by and with the consent of the Senate for a term of four years."

This is probably the reason many old-timers still refer to the "Conservation Camps" or "Conservation Department" when talking about the field stations located at Oyster Seed Grounds, the Port of Entry, and the Marine Laboratory. Also, field personnel working in the coastal areas are sometimes referred to as conservation men" or "conservation agents."

After rapid growth of this Department, a new and enlarged museum was located at 237 Royal Street. In October 1930, a monthly publication (now the Louisiana Conservationist) was available, becoming a quarterly magazine in July 1932.

Public demand shifted emphasis to freshwater fish hatcheries at this time, and hatchery facilities were completed at Bayou Des Allemands, Lake Bruen (sic), Improved Lake St. John, and Beechwood. Of these early efforts, only Beechwood remains active. Freshwater fish preserves were also established or planned for Lakes Ouachita and Bisteneau, and one in DeSoto Parish.

During these years, the first "shell plants" for the production of oysters occurred. Mississippi packers "planted" or deposited 45,000 barrels of oyster shells in Louisiana waters, without cost to the state of Louisiana. Additonally, 12,000 barrels were purchased by Louisiana and donated to Terrebonne and Lafourche parish fishermen as cultch material. The first plantings of shell for rehabilitation purposes in Louisiana were made by H. F. Moore and T. E. B. Pope of the U.S. Bureau of Fisheries in the years between 1906 and 1909. They made a series of experimental plantings in various bays of Louisiana using oyster and clam shell as cultch. These experiments revealed the ability to establish productive oyster reefs, and also pointed out that the presence of conchs (Thais sp.) rendered high-salinity areas unsuitable for this purpose.

Recreational interests were also considered by this fledgling agency, as indicated by the construction of the hatcheries. Cooperative efforts included coverage of the Grand Isle Tarpon Rodeo, which was begun in September 1928. John Donovan, Hugh Wilkinson, Alfred Danzigu, and R. J. Howell were chiefly responsible for the foundation of this rodeo. As previously noted, 26 boats participated in the 1935 rodeo. In 1986, at least 260 boats were actively involved.

Commercial fishing was also growing, although somewhat restricted by World War II. The great demand for high quality oysters caused the price per sack to increase from 75 cents to $2.50 in about 4 years. In efforts to increase the area suitable for oyster cultivation, 58,607 barrels of shell were deposited during the summer of 1944-29,185 barrels in Sister Lake, Terrebonne Parish, and 29,022 barrels in Lake Felicity, Lafourche Parish. Leases were purchased from private individuals to provide a state seed oyster reservation in Sister Lake, watchmen were hired, and housing facilities were secured. This allowed continued use of this area for production of seed oysters available to oyster fishermen on a regulated basis. This seed oyster area remains active today, providing a valuable free service to the oyster industry.

Finally, on 7 November 1944, the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Commission was created by the people of Louisiana by a majority of 39,739 votes. On 11 December 1944, then Governor Jimmie H. Davis appointed John G. Appel as the first Commissioner. This act officially created the Commission, or the Department as it is now known. The Legislature and Constitution of Louisiana charged this new agency with the responsibility of protecting, conserving, and propagating the wildlife of Louisiana. This responsibility included wild game, nongame quadrupeds or animals, oysters, fish, and other aquatic life.

To fulfill the legislature mandates, Commissioner Appel established six major programs: 1) Control of the water hyacinth, 2) control of predators, 3) enlarged fish rescue and restocking programs, 4) enlarged education and public relations programs, 5) enlarged enforcement programs, and 6) obtaining public shooting grounds.

In 1944, 33,239 fishing licenses were sold, with funds being utilized to carry out operations of the Department. Several recommendations were also made for future consideration. Among these were establishment of a "Gulf Biological Station." This facility was established in the late 1950's and is now known as the Lyle St. Amant Marine Biological Laboratory. Other recommendations included allowing game fish farming and sale of fish produced, initiating scientific studies of blue crabs, and resuming studies of the commercially important shrimp. These shrimp were then known as four species: the "Brazilian" shrimp (red-grooved), the unusual "white Brazilian" (whitegrooved), the "white" or "native" shrimp common sea shrimp), and the seabob. We now know these shrimp to be only three species, the Brazilian or brown shrimp, the white shrimp (combining the white Brazilian and the common sea shrimp) and the seabob. To provide information to the legislature and also to the citizens of Louisiana, the first biennial report was published in 1946, covering the years 1944-45.

In 1976, the agency name was again changed to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

From initial efforts to protect game birds in St. Bernard Parish, developed today's Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. This agency is now responsible for research, management, and supervision of a seafood industry which is the nation's leader. Production of shrimp, oysters, crabs, and finfish was recorded at over 1 billion pounds in 1986. Additionally, recreational interests contribute an enormous amount to the economy of Louisiana while utilizing game management areas, fishing, hunting on public shooting grounds and pursuing other interests which the Department is responsible for.

The Department's functions are basically the same-to conserve, protect and propagate the renewable resources of the state. To accomplish this, the Department is divided into three basic entities-the Office of Wildlife, the Office of Coastal and Marine Resources, and the Office of the Secretary. The Office of the Secretary provides administrative guidance for the Department, Education services, and Enforcement, while the Office of Wildlife insures management for upland game, waterfowl, furbearers, fresh water aquatics, and game birds. Marine aquatics, seismic operations, aviation, environmental matters, and dredge and fill operations are the responsibility of the Office of Coastal and Marine Resources.

Just as the mightly oak shades everything under it with its protective branches, the Department has provided management, research and protection for Louisiana's renewable natural resources for the past 130 years. With the cooperation of Louisiana citizens, this protective shade shall continue. This article was written by Gerald Adkins and is reprinted from the Louisiana Conservationist 40(1):4-7, published by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and which is celebrating its 80th anniversary in 1988. Views or opinions expressed or implied are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the position of the National Maring Fisheries Service, NOAA.
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Sep 22, 1988
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