Fishermen fear freshwater could kill oysters, chase shrimp away

Can Nguyen
Can Nguyen

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Pass Christian is known for having one of the largest natural oyster reefs in the world. But the reefs could be in jeopardy because of the Mississippi River flooding.

On Tuesday, the Department of Marine Resources predicted that if freshwater from the Mississippi River invades the Mississippi Sound, it could destroy the reefs. That dire prediction comes as oyster fishermen in Pass Christian are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, and reeling from the BP oil spill.

"All we had was the tonging season last year and the limit was really low. Nobody could really make any money because the limit wasn't but 10 sacks per boat," said Jerry Forte, a seafood dealer in the Pass Christian Harbor.

Forte remembers the huge loss of oysters when the Bonnet Carre Spillway near New Orleans was opened to relieve flooding in 1983.

"It killed them all and there weren't oysters for, like, three years. Oh yeah, it could happen very easily if they leave the spillway open too long," said Forte. "It's been tough on everybody. And we got this freshwater coming, so it's going to put us out of business again this summer."

Shrimpers are also worried about their livelihoods. Can Nguyen just returned from shrimping in Louisiana waters. He's gearing up for the Mississippi shrimp season, which typically opens in June.

"We hope the shrimp this year is good, because we've been catching good shrimp in Louisiana," said Nguyen.

But the Long Beach shrimper said if freshwater from the Mississippi River gushes into the salty Mississippi Sound, it will chase all the shrimp farther out into the Gulf.

"It's going to be bad for the small boats because most of the small boats, they work in the bay. They're scared of working out in the open water," said Nguyen.

Nguyen is hoping shrimpers can drop their nets early, so they can pull up their catch before any freshwater reaches Mississippi waters. Late Wednesday, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources set the opening date of the 2011-2012 shrimp season in Mississippi territorial waters for Wednesday, May 25, at 6am.

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