The Louisiana Department of Health announced today that it is reopening oyster harvesting Areas 5 and 6 to give harvesters as much time as possible to harvest their product before any potential impact from the BP oil spill in the Gulf.

Areas 5 and 6, which are east of the Mississippi River in St. Bernard Parish, were originally closed April 30. LDH closed both areas 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.

Click here to view pictures of a LDH testing team:

LDH Secretary Alan Levine and State Health Officer Dr. Jimmy Guidry on Saturday signed the orders to reopen Areas 5 and 6, which will take effect at sunrise, Sunday, May 16, 2010.

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, 3, 4, 8, 14, 15 and 17 remain closed. 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 with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness as the situation develops.