PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Dawn over the Mississippi Sound Monday, signals the start of the 2010 oyster season. One by one, fishermen make their way from the Pass Christian harbor, to a nearby oyster reef. It's one of only three areas open to tongers right now.
After the first couple of hours, fishermen like John Living are discouraged by what they see.
"Uh, it's kind of slow in the beginning," says Living. "They don't look as thick as they were last year, I can tell you that."
Officials with the Department of Marine Resources opened the season with several restrictions in an effort to conserve the oyster population. Early samples revealed many of the oysters were dying.
"Well that's something we're trying to keep up with," explains Scott Gordon, who oversees DMR's Shellfish Bureau. "We're going to have boats out this week checking, and us just going around talking to these fishermen, seeing what they're bringing in right now, that's a good indication on how it's going to be."
Brad Stapleton was one of the first boats in the water Monday morning. He examines his catch after two hours of tonging. "Uh, there's a few oysters that are still alive. The mussels are getting on them a bit. But we're making a few dollars. We're glad to be able to come back to work. Good the season's open. Doesn't look like the oil's got to anything. Maybe it'll be alright."
For Roscoe Lievig, this is his first time tonging.
"This is hard work!"
Lievig usually lets the boat do all the work, by dredging for oysters. But when DMR said dredging was off limits, he was ok with that.
"We'd hurt the reef more at this point, if everything's dead already," says Lievig. "So we'll come out here and do what we can. This is all new to us, but we'll learn."
Mississippi oyster fisherman are adapting to the new limits, and hoping the crop stays healthy for a long, successful season.
Fishermen also said they were shocked at the number of boats on the water Monday morning. They were expecting a lot more.
Scott Gordon with DMR says there were about 25 to 30 boats registered today, which is about half compared to last year.