The Louisiana Department of Health announced today that it is reopening oyster harvesting Area 7 to give harvesters as much time as possible to harvest their product before any potential impact from the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Area 7, which is east of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish, was originally closed April 30. Area 7 was closed as a precaution in anticipation of oil intrusion into that area. There has been no intrusion as of yet, and LDH officials continue to monitor the areas, as well as an entire 8-million acre area off the Louisiana shoreline.

In addition to continued monitoring, oyster harvesters "taste test" the oysters as they are pulled from the water to make sure their product is good. Harvesters and dealers test oysters in order to provide the most wholesome product and highest-quality product available to the public.

LDH Secretary Alan Levine and State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry on Friday signed the orders to reopen Area 7, which will take effect at sunrise, Saturday, May 15, 2010.

"Our people are monitoring all the beds on a daily basis," said Sec. Levine. "Decisions on precautionary closures and reopenings are based on a variety of factors, all of which are designed to protect the public and ensure the health of our seafood industry by ensuring only good, safe product is brought to market."

LDH officials have been working closely with local, state and federal agencies to monitor the oil plume that continues to grow off of the Louisiana coastline for its potential impacts on oyster harvesting areas.

In addition to regular testing schedules, LDH scientists and engineers are conducting enhanced testing of oyster meat taken from the closed beds to monitor the presence of oil. Oysters being harvested in areas open for harvesting have been deemed safe by DHH.

Areas 2 through 6, 8, 14 and 15 remain closed. Area 17 has also been closed, with an order for its closure signed Thursday, May 13. Closures will remain in effect until officials have determined that environmental conditions are within the requirements specified by the National Shellfish Sanitation Program.

The public is encouraged to call a toll-free hotline, 1-800-256-2775, to report the presence of oil or an oil sheen.

Officials with LDH are working closely the Governor's Office for Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness as the situation develops.

For a map detailing Louisiana's oyster harvesting areas, click here.