Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Louisiana
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Swam LM, La Peyre MK, Couvillion B, Callam B, La Peyre JF. 2022 Defining oyster resource zones across coastal Louisiana for restoration and aquaculture. Ocean and Coastal Management


Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are a critical ecological and commercial resource in the northern Gulf of Mexico facing changing environmental conditions from river management and climate change. In Louisiana, USA, development of restored reefs, and off-bottom aquaculture would benefit from the identification of locations supportive of sustainable oyster populations (i.e., metapopulations) and high consistent production. This study defines four oyster resource zones across coastal Louisiana based on environmental conditions known to affect oyster survival, growth, and reproduction. Daily data from 2015 – 2019 were interpolated to generate salinity and temperature profiles across Louisiana’s estuaries, which were then used to classify zones based on monthly and annual salinity mean and variance. Zones were classified as supportive of (1) broodstock sanctuary reefs (i.e., support reproductive populations), (2) productive reefs during dry (salty) years, (3) productive reefs during wet (fresh) years, and (4) off-bottom aquaculture development. Of the 38,000 km2 investigated, over 11,000 km2 of potential oyster zone area was identified across the Louisiana coast. The Broodstock Sanctuary Zone was the smallest (~540 km2), as salinity variance limited this zone in many areas, as it is driven largely by riverine inputs across many estuaries. Located up-estuary (Dry Restoration Zone) and down-estuary (Wet Restoration Zone) of the Broodstock Sanctuary Zone, Dry and Wet Restoration Zone areas covered ~2,400 km2 and ~3,900 km2, respectively. Existing mapped reefs in Louisiana currently exist largely within the Dry Restoration zones, suggesting a potential strategy to focus reef development in Wet Restoration zones to ensure reef network sustainability through years with high precipitation and river inflow. The off-bottom Aquaculture Zone was the largest (~6,400 km2) zone identified, with much of this area located more down-estuary and off-shore. Accounting for variable water quality conditions enables the development of a network of reefs resilient to environmental variability, and more stable areas for consistent off-bottom aquaculture production. Spatial planning and identification of oyster resource zones reduces focus on individual reef success and supports management of oyster metapopulation outcomes, while identifying zones supportive of off-bottom aquaculture.