Fishermen support limits on Mississippi oyster season

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - By Steve Phillips – bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi commercial fishermen did something out of the ordinary this week. They lobbied the Commission on Marine Resources for stricter limits on this year's oyster season.

It's the latest twist in an unusual year for the fishing industry, which was impacted greatly by the BP oil spill.

Commercial fisherman lobbied successfully to do away with this year's oyster dredging season for one simple reason:  "The main thing is we wanted to protect our resources," said fisherman Frank Parker.

Parker is a spokesman for the recently resurrected Mississippi Gulf Coast Commercial Fisherman Organization. He said after DMR sampling trips last month showed a high mortality rate on the reefs, fishermen thought it best to do away with dredging and make it a tonging only season this year.

"Dredging has the most effect on the reef cause you're actually dragging a heavy piece of metal on the bottom, whereas the tonging is done by hand and it has a lot less negative effect to the oyster reefs as far as killing the small oysters and things like that," said Parker.

"This boat, I can only dredge oysters with this. So, I won't be oystering this year," said Don Rhyne, as he worked on his shrimp nets at the Pass Christian harbor.

Rhyne has been fishing commercially for nearly 60 years. He wasn't surprised to learn about "no dredging" this season; he's heard the reports from the reefs.

"I haven't been out personally to check on 'em, but I know these boys that did go out and went with the DMR, they did find a lot of dead shell," said Rhyne.

Fishermen lobbied to do away with the dredging this year, even though DMR staff recommended a limited season.

"We felt they were probably trying to help the oystermen so we could make some money, but the overall impact and negative side of killing young spat that could grow up for next year probably outweigh the benefits of the short season they was wanting," said Parker.

Despite the decision to do away with oyster dredging this year, fishermen remain confident the reefs will rebound.

"God will make everything out there recover. Mother Nature is a great and wonderful thing," said Rhyne.

The oyster season for tonging opens on November 8th.

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