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From The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Oyster reef under way
Vermilion group plans to build site
to help marine life, shore
By Richard Burgess, Acadiana bureau
ABBEVILLE, LA — Jan 26, 2021 - The smelly mound of oyster shells rose nearly 10
feet high behind a processing plant in rural Vermilion Parish.
And as a front-end loader took big scoops of the shells and
piled them into the back of a dump truck Wednesday, Russell
Gaspard talked as if the machine were mining gold.
It was the first load of shells destined for an oyster reef
that Gaspard and others plan to build from scratch by the end
of the year.
the reef, planned for Vermilion Bay, will restore
an oyster fishery to the area, improve other marine life and
sap the energy from waves that have been eating away at the
The project has been on the drawing board for about a year.
It received a big boost in November when the nonprofit Gulf of
Mexico Foundation awarded a $70,000 grant for the reef work to
the Louisiana Wetlands Association, a nonprofit group formed by
Gaspard, a retired parish clerk of court, and a circle of
friends who meet each morning for coffee at Comeaux’s Cafe
across from the courthouse in Abbeville.
The association — now 50 members strong — took shape last year
to host a yearly “wetlands” festival to bring attention to
conservation issues, but members soon began looking for a
“We had this brand new association, so we needed to do
something,” said Wayne Touchet, a building contractor and
Vermilion Parish police juror who serves as president of the
The group had no background in marine science, but Touchet said
that most members are fishermen and know from experience that
oyster reefs, which attract all other sorts of marine life,
make a prime spot to drop a line.
“Enough with the studying — these folks are doing it,” said Ron
Dugas, who managed oyster fisheries for the state Department of
Wildlife and Fisheries for more than 30 years before retiring.
He serves as an informal consultant on the Vermilion Bay
Dugas, who maintains an Internet “oyster news” archive, said he
is not aware of any other inshore reef project under way along
the state’s coast.
He said the practice of returning natural oyster shells to the
water bottom to form a reef “is a carryover form the oyster
fishermen who have been building reefs like this for more than
100 years. … You are actually bringing back to the sea what
The difficulty, he said, is in pulling together enough oyster
Gaspard said he hopes to gather at least 200 cubic yards of
shells, about 20 times the large truck load obtained Wednesday
from the Pearl Reef Oysters seafood processing plant near
Don’s Seafood Hut in Lafayette and Dupuy’s Oyster Shop in
Abbeville have also agreed to set aside oyster shells for the
The shells will be brought to the Port of Vermilion, and — when
the pile is large enough — loaded onto a barge and carried out
to the site of the proposed reef.
The plan is to put down a layer of cracked limestone or
concrete and then carry the shells by barge out to the reef
site and pile them on top.
If environmental factors cooperate, the structure will
naturally attract oyster larvae, which float in the water until
finding a suitable reef-like structure to call home, said Earl
Melancon, a Nicholls State University marine scientist who
specializes in oyster fisheries.
As more oysters latch on, the reef naturally grows larger.
Melancon said that once an oyster reef is established, it
becomes a “community structure” teeming with marine life.
Oysters also filter water as they feed, he said, and a large
reef structure could dampen the waves that pound away at the
The proposed site for the reef is near an older reef that was
silted decades ago by dirt eroded from the shore, Touchet said.
Gaspard said he hopes that oysters can be harvested from the
new reef within two years.
He said no commercial harvest will be allowed initially, but
individuals will be allowed to harvest a small amount for
personal use, as long as the oysters are shucked on site and
the shells dropped back in the water to help maintain the reef.
Gaspard said the reef will be named “Ronney’s Reef,” in honor
of the founding president of the Louisiana Wetlands
Association, Ronney Mayard.
Mayard, who died in August, was a longtime music educator and
arts advocate in Vermilion Parish.
He was also an avid fisherman and wrote the grant proposal that
won the money for the project.
“I can think of no better tribute,” said Mayard’s widow, Dixie,
who came out Wednesday to watch the gathering of the first load
of oyster shells for the reef.
ON THE WEB:
The Gulf of Mexico Foundation —
The Louisiana Oyster Task Force —
Oyster news archive —