Limited oyster season now open in state waters

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The opening of the 2013 oyster season in Mississippi waters is now in the books. Only three of several reefs opened south of Pass Christian this morning at sunrise, and only for tonging with a 12 sack limit. It's an industry that is still recovering from both natural and man made disasters in recent years.

It's still dark as oystermen get ready to leave the docks. Katrina, the gulf oil spill, and the opening of the Bonnie Carre spillway two years ago have crippled the industry. The numbers don't lie.

Dale Diaz, the director of marine fisheries for the Department of Marine Resources said, "Prior to Katrina, we had about a ten year run where we harvested in excess of 300,000 sacks a year. Last year, we were able to harvest about 58,000 sacks and from the sample results that we have this year, we think this year is going to be comparable to last year."

That means it's hard to make a living, even with oyster reefs being rebuilt.

"It's been pretty tough. I know a number of us have been struggling and are still struggling but you know but we manage to make ends meet somehow," said Davis Dennis, an oysterman.

It's not just Mississippi reefs that have been impacted. That's what worries oysterman Phillip Brannon.

"I'm hoping there are some oysters over in Alabama because we don't know if we're going to have any oysters over there this year either. We're just going to have to wait and see I guess," Brannon said.

That guessing leaves questions about the future for Dennis.

"I love the industry. I love to do what I do but at the same time, I've got two daughters and a wife and I've got to take care of them," said Dennis.

Despite the troubles for the oyster industry here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast over the past several years, officials and scientists at the Department of Marine Resources say careful planning could lead to a more optimistic future.

"We've seen some good spat sets this year and so we anticipate, barring no more big natural disasters or man-made, we're going to have a good future in the oyster industry," said Jamie Miller, the exectutive director of the agency.

Despite the doubts, there are some things you can count on, according to Miller.

"Two things we know for sure. The oysters will be safe and they'll taste the best," said Miller.

After last week's heavy rains, several other oyster reefs remain closed right now due to possible contamination. When testing shows the reefs are safe, they'll also be opened for tonging. The dredging season will begin October 14th.

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