The edible oyster, distinct from the pearl oyster, is a significant portion of the income produced by Louisiana's fishing industry. From dredging to dining, the state's oyster products generate $100 million annually, roughly 35 percent of the nation's oyster catch. Such a lucrative market requires strict regulation to prevent a "Chesapeake scenario" -- the destruction of oyster reefs from overharvesting followed by the collapse of the industry.

In Louisiana, where oysters have been an important industry since the mid-1800s, harvesting is regulated by the Survey Section of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LW&F). The agency administers some 8,000 oyster-bed leases in the state's 400,000 acres of "bottom waters," or coastal shallows.

Agency responsibilities include conduct- ing oyster-resource and lease-boundary surveys, processing lease applications, invoicing lease holders, and publishing lease availability, statistics and other news affecting the oyster industry.

Until the late 1980s, the oyster leasing process was paper-based; surveys, accounting, applications and related records were kept on various forms, plat maps and index cards. Office personnel were often tied up processing applications and tracking down leases for oyster fishermen. They also provided hydrologic and survey data, and oyster leasing information for oil companies, seismic companies and survey engineering firms.

"We deal with them as much as with anybody else," said Clarence Meyers, engineering-technician supervisor in the Oyster Lease Survey Section. "They are not necessarily interested in owning leases; they want to avoid running over them." Meyers said the staff was "besieged with requests for listings of leases from other agencies as well as from private industry."

As demand for information grew, it became clear that a more efficient operation was needed to administer the leasing process and provide up-to-date listings of oyster leases. "The paper listings would be outdated in a day or two," Meyers explained, "and we didn't want to be responsible for giving out incorrect information."

Since the agency already had an Intergraph MGE (Modular GIS Environment) package, Meyers outlined a plan to use the system to automate labor-intensive steps involved in lease processing.

Executing the Plan

In the first phase, Intergraph's COGO Works, a coordinate geometry package, was used to enter lease boundaries from paper documents to CAD (computer-aided design) MicroStation files, and to create precise polygons representing each lease on a U.S. Geographical Survey 7.5-minute quadrangle map (quad). Using MGE, the agency numbered the leases and overlaid them onto the quad. By clicking on a lease number, the office staff could instantly pull up the location and coordinates of that lease.

University students were then brought in over two summers to transfer paper-based lease documents, dating from the 1920s onward, to an Oracle database. Again, using the MGE, Meyers connected the lease numbers in the CAD files to the complete legal description of the leases -- owner, location, size, duration, payments, etc. -- in the Oracle database.

The office staff could now could pull up complete information about a lease simply by clicking on the lease number. If more complex data was needed, GIS personnel could query the database using SQL (structured query language) in Oracle.

Automating The Leasing Process

Although the agency staff could now use word processors, filling out data fields in multiple documents, billing and sending delinquency notices and publishing lists of available leases were still time-consuming operations, made moreso because the leasing process required several documents for each transaction.

Since all the data was now in digital format, however, the next step was automation. Following Meyers' plan, consultant Jane Goodman of GeoQuery Inc. wrote several programs using Visual Basic and Bentley's MicroStation MDL to print documents, record payments, generate invoices, lease applications and delinquency listings for publication.

The program allows users to query the database for various statistics. It also provides a simple