PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The oyster reefs in Mississippi opened for commercial dredging this week. After nearly a decade of dismal oyster seasons, South Mississippi fishermen are feeling a bit more optimistic about this year's harvest. On Thursday, the docks at the Pass Christian Harbor were bustling with activity.
Several fishermen told WLOX News they were able to catch oysters faster, the shells looked great, and there was plenty of meat inside. They said it has been their best day so far.
It was non-stop action at the docks at the Pass Christian Harbor. Boats were pulling in with their catch, oysters were being inspected, tagged, and unloaded. It took most crews about three hours to dredge and reach their 20-sack limit.
"They're a whole lot faster to catch. It's not a lot of digging and scrounging around," said Jacob Seals, a Bay St. Louis fisherman.
Many fishermen seemed pleased with what they've seen inside the shells.
"There are more oysters, bigger and the meat's thicker. Everything's looking good. We're getting them in good timing," said Seals.
"They're coming in with some beautiful oysters. Some of them on the dredging have been fat, nice shells, very pretty, clean," said Darlene Kimball, owner of Kimball's Seafood.
That's a pleasant surprise for the fishermen. After all, they've endured year after year of disappointing oyster seasons due to Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill, and the freshwater intrusion from the Bonne Carre spillway in Louisiana. To add to their troubles, earlier this month, Tropical Storm Karen forced the reefs to close to tonging for five days.
When asked if he was surprised at the season so far, Michael Sowa replied, "Yeah, I really am. I thought it was going to be a bad year, but it's looking OK right now so far."
Some fishermen said there's still a lot of uncertainty about how the rest of the season will turn out. So far, they're enjoying the quality and quantity of their harvest.
"The guys are saying some days they're out there, they can find them really fast. Some are saying if we keep working that spot, there won't be anything left. They have to move to another spot. Wishing for the best. I'm hoping we'll last till April," said Kimball.
The fishermen also told us the price for their oysters is also higher. They're getting $37 a sack this year, compared to $30 to $32 a sack last year.