A bill has been introduced in the Louisiana Legislature that would prohibit dredging for oysters on Big Lake, which according to Coastal Conservation Association Louisiana has seen both its oyster population and vertical reef structure decline since the mid-2000s when scrapers were first permitted as an allowable harvest method.

Rep. Stephen Dwight of Lake Charles introduced House Bill 156, which would limit the oyster harvest on both Calcasieu Lake and Sabine Lake to tonging only. (Sabine Lake has not been harvested for decades due to closures by the Department of Health and Hospitals, but it’s possible it could be opened to harvest in the future.)

According to CCA, Big Lake’s oyster population has plummeted since scrapers were allowed, compounded by salinity fluctuations, disease and predation. In 2003, nearly 1.2 million sacks of oysters were available for harvest there. Now fewer than 100,000 sacks remain, according to a press release.

“By eliminating scrapers from Calcasieu Lake, along with the implementation of new oyster restoration projects and salinity control measures, we hope to see the rebuilding of the vertical structure of the reefs,” said David Cresson, CEO of CCA Louisiana.  “This would lead to an increase in the oyster population, and the ability for those in the oyster industry to benefit from longer seasons and significantly greater oyster harvest.”

In recent years, the release states the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has attempted to rebuild the oyster population on Big Lake, but state biologists recommended a total season closure for 2016-17. If nothing changes, prospects for 2017-18 are no better, according to CCA.

“What’s not in dispute is the vertical structure of the historic oyster reefs in Big Lake has been decreased dramatically, and that those reefs have seen an incredible depletion of the oyster resource that was once so productive there,” he said in an interview Friday.

Restoring the reefs would create even better fishing opportunities on a lake already known for its trophy speckled trout.

“Clearly the restoration of the vertical reef structures in Calcasieu — through this measure and through the other restoration programs that are going to be implemented — will improve the health of the reefs and improve production,” he said. “And everybody knows healthy, vibrant, vertical reefs also are an ideal place to provide habitat for other species like speckled trout and redfish, and create a great place for anglers to fish.”

H.B. 156 is scheduled for consideration in the coming weeks during the ongoing legislative session.

“We feel like this is a necessary move for the Cameron oyster resource, and we’re hopeful that legislators around the state will agree,” Cresson said.