CMR hears dire predictions about freshwater impact

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The Commission on Marine Resources heard some dire predictions Tuesday about the impact of freshwater flowing into the Mississippi Sound.

River water making its way to the sound could destroy the oyster reefs, hamper this year's shrimp season and bring some unwanted visitors this way.

The freshwater is expected to make its way eastward into the sound, all the way to the Gulfport ship channel.

Scott Gordon told commissioners that during 1983's opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway, front beach fishermen were catching channel cats and large mouth bass.

The DMR is gearing up to identify and monitor the impact of this historic event.

The freshwater is headed this way from the west. Millions of gallons of Mississippi River flood water will almost certainly inundate the western waters of the Mississippi Sound.

The DMR is already collecting water samples and adding more scientific measuring devices.

"We are on top of it, and we are getting some base line samples. And we are going to monitor this event before, during and after," said DMR fisheries director Dale Diaz.

The freshwater approaches just days before the opening of shrimp season.

The CMR is considering opening the season a little early, but that would require a disaster declaration from the Governor.

"It's a tough situation. What you're trying to do is get these shrimp as large as possible for the fishermen to get as much money as they can out of them. But not lose any to the freshwater. We should monitor daily and take that into consideration," said commissioner Richard Gollott.

Far more menacing is the likely disaster awaiting the oyster industry.

"The oysters can't move. The shrimp at least have a chance of getting away from the freshwater, and oysters can't. And when that freshwater comes in, they close up and they suffocate. And they die. So we're expecting up to 100 percent mortality," said Dr. Vernon Asper, chairman of the CMR.

Not only does the freshwater intrusion have the potential to wipe out the oyster industry and impact shrimp season, all that river water also brings with it new marine life to the Mississippi Sound.

And not all of it is welcome. There are real concerns about invasive species, including freshwater mollusks and fish like the Asian carp.

"The possibility of these getting into Mississippi waters and getting into our coastal freshwater streams and system, that would be of tremendous concern," said Gordon.

Scott Gordon said the oyster reefs will likely take years to recover from the damaging impact of freshwater.

But he and the DMR have faced that challenge before; rebuilding the oyster areas after Hurricane Katrina wiped out about 95 percent of the reefs.

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