BILOXI, MS (WLOX) – "How do you feel about the season being open? Have you done enough studying, sir? I can't hear you. No? Well, I have," James "Catfish" Miller told the Commission on Marine Resources on Tuesday.
Miller and several other fishermen who appeared before the CMR Tuesday, spoke out against opening the oyster season.
"I don't want it open and no fishermen I know of wants it open. Not for five sacks. That's ridiculous, really," said Jeffrey Powell.
"We really need to leave these reefs alone," said another oyster fisherman. "I haven't run into anyone that wants it open. Everybody is of the same opinion there are too few oysters that survive. They need to be left alone to breed."
"My children want to dredge," said Miller. "So let's prepare for the future, not open it up and let us go out there and clean what's left out there."
The Department of Marine Resources' extensive sampling of four major oyster reefs backed up the fishermen's claims. The samplings found that three out of four major reefs in the Mississippi Sound showed very low numbers of oysters this year compared to last year.
"I would say maybe 15 percent or 20 percent recent dead that we found in there," said Scott Gordon with the DMR. He showed graphs and statistics of the recent samplings.
"It's spotty around the reefs. What you saw today was in some one-minute dredge pulls. We got no oysters whatsoever. No live oysters, no dead oysters, just no oysters. Other tows we had very high mortalities," said DMR Director Dr. Bill Walker.
Walker told the fishermen the reefs will remain closed for now and the fate of the oyster season will be taken up at October's CMR meeting. He pointed out that oyster counts fluctuate from year to year.
And Walker had this to say to those fishermen who blame the Gulf oil spill for the higher number of dead oysters.
"We know we had oil product near our oysters. We don't have any direct evidence that there's oil in them or if they've been affected in any way by oil," Walker said.
Walker said he plans to conduct more oyster relays to boost the oyster supply. He also said there are some fishermen who have told him they are ready to go to work. Oyster season normally opens in mid or late October, and oysters are in high demand during the holiday season.