DMR Ready For Alabama, Florida Oystermen

Oyster reefs in Mississippi suffered little damage from Hurricane Ivan, but the storm still could have an impact on the Gulf Coast's oyster industry.

Alabama estimates Ivan took out 80 percent of its oyster beds. That's a $4 million loss. Florida is still tallying its damages, after four hurricanes this year. With few reefs left to harvest in those states, many local oystermen fear their contemporaries will head to Mississippi waters.

"They're almost all gone. Everybody's working on them, that's why our limits have dropped down to 25 sacks a day," Oysterman Michael Wall said.

Wall has been dredging for oysters for nearly ten years. He says the thought of more out of state oystermen working these nearly depleted waters disturbs him.

"They're not going to be able to support all the local boats, much less an influx of other fishermen. We honestly don't have enough oysters here for our own selves this year. We're going to be lucky to be able to work after Christmas."

"This is what they do for a living and if they can't do that in their state, then they would have to come to a state where they would be able to," said Scott Gordon, DMR's Shellfish Bureau Director.

Gordon says so far they haven't seen a large number of out of state oystermen apply for licenses to work local waters, but that could change.

"The season's still early, still young, so we may see some increases. We are selling more and more licenses every day."

He says if they do see a predicted influx, Department of Marine Resources enforcement procedures may need adjusting. But he says they'll cross that bridge when, and if, they get there.

Experts say it could take more than three years to restore oyster reefs in Alabama, and even longer in Florida.

by Al Showers