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Oyster hatchery built with $3M from BP settlement opens; designed to withstand hurricane winds

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GRAND ISLE, Louisiana — A new oyster hatchery built with $3 million in BP oil spill settlement money to withstand hurricane-force winds opened Wednesday in Grand Isle.

The 7,000-square-foot concrete building, designed to withstand 140-mph winds, is raised 20 feet above sea level and will more than double production of the larvae used to seed oyster grounds, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

The building's recirculating water system allows year-round production, boosting the number of larvae from about 400 million a year to as many as 1 billion a year, department spokeswoman Ashley Roth said in an email Wednesday.

"This oyster hatchery is a very important tool in rehabilitating the state's valuable oyster resources in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill," department Secretary Robert Barham said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Louisiana State University President F. King Alexander said, "LSU is proud of the role our scientists play in Louisiana's world-famous oyster industry, which supplies more than a third of our country's oysters. This hatchery will provide critical support to a resource that is integral to our state's culture and identity."

Fisheries head Randy Pausina and Louisiana Sea Grant executive director Robert Twilley also spoke at Wednesday's ribbon-cutting.

Sea Grant has been involved in oyster research and improvements for more than 20 years, Twilley said.

He said the hatchery building is owned by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, and Supan is in charge of the research and technology.

Twilley called the partnership between Sea Grant and Wildlife and Fisheries "a great collaboration."

The building, named after oysterman Michael Voisin, has allowed LSU AgCenter professor John Supan to bring his work indoors.

He's been running an outdoor hatchery and research station at Grand Isle since 1993, moving equipment inland whenever a tropical storm threatened. After Hurricane Katrina, the hatchery was moved to the department's Fisheries Research Lab, Roth said.

Money for the project came from the $1 billion in early restoration funds that BP PLC provided after the spill in 2010.

Design work is going on for two marine fish hatcheries and research stations, also to be built with money from BP. One for marine baitfish, such as Atlantic croaker and Gulf killifish, is being built in Plaquemines Parish. The other, just south of Lake Charles, will produce spotted sea trout, red drum and southern flounder.

They'll be used to responsibly develop aquaculture-based techniques for marine fisheries management, Roth said.

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