CMR hears update on blue crab harvest, oyster season

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi is experiencing the worst blue crab harvest in nearly 20 years.

The Commission on Marine Resources heard that news Tuesday at its monthly meeting. The commission also set the opening dates for the upcoming oyster season and were told that the oyster reefs are still recovering.

So many factors affect the growth and health of seafood in the Mississippi Sound. Things like the environment and fishing regulations. Then there's the impact from a trio of disasters: Katrina, the oil spill and the opening of the Bonne Carre spillway.

Rather than harvesting an abundant catch of blue crabs this year, crab fishermen are more likely singing the blues.

"For 2013, landings are very poor. We're down 60 percent of what we'd expect to see for this time of year. This is not our worst year, that was back in 1994. But still cause for concern," said the DMR's Traci Floyd, as she gave commissioners a blue crab update.

As for what's causing the decline in blue crab catches, there are many factors to consider. Changes in environment and regulations can affect the numbers. Then there's the abundance of predators.

"Everything, just about, eats blue crabs. Blue crabs are cannibalistic, they eat their own. Sea turtles eat blue crabs. But there are 64 species of fish that have been identified in the gulf as predators of blue crab," said Floyd.

But she says another culprit is the tremendous loss of blue crab habitat. The Mississippi Sound has lost thousands of acres of marsh and wetlands.

"Nearly a quarter of the salt marsh in the Mississippi Sound has been lost from 1956 to 2007. And that's during the prime time we're seeing this crab decline. So, that's over 9,000 acres," she explained.

Oyster harvesting is also on a downward trend over the past decade and oyster reefs are still recovering.

First the oil spill in 2010 and then the intrusion of fresh water from the opening of the Bonne Carre spillway.

"We do have some harvestable oysters in the Pass Christian area, although indications are it's not as good as we would have like to have seen," the DMR's Scott Gordon told the commission.

Commissioners set the dates for another limited oyster season.  Opening day for tonging is September 30th, while the dredging reef will open October 14th.

"Starting off initially with a 20 sack commercial dredging sack limit and 12 sack daily commercial tonging limit," said Gordon.

As mentioned, it will be a limited oyster season again this year, with harvesting in Area Two conditionally approved waters.

As in past years, the DMR executive director has the authority to make any changes in the season, depending on the condition of the oyster reefs.

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