Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News

NEW ORLEANS -- For the first time since the BP oil spill, the federal government held a Gulf of Mexico oil and gas lease auction in New Orleans on Wednesday. It came on the same day as an announcement on the first phase of oil spill restoration projects.

At P&J Oyster Company in the French Quarter, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar learned the fine art of shucking oysters, just minutes after announcing a major oyster restoration project for Louisiana.

'We need to make sure that we move forward with the restoration of the Gulf of Mexico in a way that supports the oyster industry and its future,' Salazar said.

It is an industry spanning five generations of Al Sunseri's family at P&J. A year and half later, the oil spill is still a part of their lives.

'We're a week before Christmas now and this place would normally be filled with people, lots of noise, processing oysters. It's not been the same,' Sunseri said.

Change could be on the horizon, though. Louisiana is now one of the four Gulf states slated for early coastal restoration projects, pending public comment.

Two Louisiana projects take up about half of the initial $57 million. The first is a $13 million plan to restore the 555 acres of marsh in Lake Hermitage, on the west bank of the Mississippi River in Plaquemines Parish.

The second project calls for nearly $15 million to plant oyster cultch in five southeast Louisiana parishes: Plaquemines, St. Bernard, Jefferson, Lafourche and Terrebonne.

'An oyster takes two, three years to grow to marketable size, so it's appropriate that this is the first thing that we're doing, the first project we're doing,' said Garret Graves of the state's Coastal Restoration and Protection Authority.

At the same time the restoration projects were unveiled, Salazar announced the results of a major oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico -- the first since the oil spill.

The total for all of the winning bids: $337 million.

During a news conference, Salazar addressed critics of the Obama administration's handling of the oil and gas industry.

'We have lived through what was one of the most significant national crises that we have faced in the last century,' Salazar said. 'We have stood the oil and gas industry back up here in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf is back to work.'

Also on Wednesday, the National Academy of Engineering and National Research Council released an independent report, which focused on the lessons learned from the oil spill. The report made multiple recommendations, including calling for a redesign of blowout preventers.

To see the report in its entirety, click here.

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