Oyster sacks down by 100,000 after oil spill

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - A report from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources indicates the April 20, 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill a lot to do with Mississippi fishermen selling 100,000 fewer sacks of oysters last year than then did in 2009. That's one of the main reasons why fishermen feel like they've been on a roller coaster ride since the oil spill.

The oysters they catch are as fresh as they can be.  The waters where they came from look calm.  But looks can be deceiving.  The massive oil spill one year ago polluted the gulf, and tainted perceptions about south Mississippi seafood.

Travis MacKenzie is a Pass Christian fisherman. He says his oyster crew is "still getting them. But it's not as good as it was last year."

Last year was before millions of gallons of oil poured into the gulf.  The leak has been plugged, and everybody says gulf seafood is safe.  Yet, Tommy Dennis says uncertainties remain about the seafood industry's immediate future.

"Don't know. Afraid to say," the Pass Christian fisherman lamented. "Just have to wait it out and see."

To protect oyster reefs after the Deepwater Horizon mishap, the DMR changed harvesting rules.  Tongs could still scoop up oysters.  But dredgers had to stay at the docks.

Adam Dinet appreciated the modification to the rules.

"It's been fine for me," he said.

The number of oysters sold to processors dropped this season by nearly 100,000 sacks.  Making money became difficult.  On top of that, fishermen said they struggled to get BP claims paid.  And then, gas prices shot up.

"Today it cost me $20 just to go out and catch ten sacks of oysters," Bobby Pinkerton said.

Yet the fishermen in Pass Christian remain a resilient bunch.

Soon oyster sacks will be replaced by shrimp nets.  And at the docks, that becomes another chance for them to make a living in south Mississippi's seafood industry.

"Hope it's good," Pinkerton said. "In all honesty. If it ain't, don't know what we're going to do."

The fishermen learned on Tuesday the entire gulf is once again open to fishermen.  NOAA scientists have determined the waters surrounding the Deepwater Horizon wellhead are no longer polluted.  So, they lifted the fishing ban in that 1,000 square mile area of the Gulf of Mexico.

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