MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - A network of community groups hosted an event this past week, calling attention to the challenges facing commercial fishermen. The annual outing is called Come Fish off My Boat.
Scientists and researchers spent eight hours aboard a Vietnamese shrimp boat. Longtime fishermen Bien Do gave his guests a close up look at the hard work involved in trawling for shrimp.
The visiting scientists and researchers not only got a firsthand view of the effort it takes to harvest shrimp and oysters. They also engaged in significant conversation about ongoing restoration efforts to help boost the fishery.
"We're already investing in shrimp and oysters by improving the water quality downstream," said one researcher.
"Shame on us if it turns out we are all just focused on our own business and not looking across," added Justin Ehrenwerth, Director of the Gulf Coast Eco System Restoration Council.
The veteran fisherman and his wife took the opportunity to share their preferences and concerns about proposed restoration projects that are part of the post-oil spill recovery. One critical element is time.
"They're waiting. They've been told you've got to give it several years, right? To them, successful restoration of an oyster reef is if that reef is open to harvesting like it used to be, or close to what it used to be," said Thao Vu, who works for a group that advocates on behalf of Vietnamese fishermen and their families.
One oyster related project calls for establishing a mega-nursery to plant baby oysters on the reefs.
"It usually takes two to three years from the time you plant shell on the reefs before you have harvestable oysters on it. We think we can cut that time in half by augmenting those shell plantings with some of the shell that already has oysters on it," said Dr. LaDon Swann, who directs the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.
Many of the proposed projects are focused on habitat restoration and recovery.
"Mississippi has lost about 10,000 acres of marsh since the 50s. So, that's why there's a big focus on that habitat," said George Ramseur, who works on habitat restoration for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
One project already in development is the living marsh initiative.
"We've got one in Hancock County, and that's about a $50 million project. We're going to create more marsh and help the ecological system. Create more fish, crabs, oysters. All these things, shrimp. Then we've got some smaller living marsh projects that will cover Harrison and Jackson County," said Mark Wyatt, who directs the office of oil spill restoration for the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.
Recovery from the oil spill will take many, many years. In Alaska, oil spill restoration projects from the Exxon Valdez spill are still underway.
Groups that helped organize the fishing trip include the Steps Coalition and the Mississippi Center for Justice.