BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Oyster fishermen are worried about the future of their industry. Freshwater from the Bonnet Carre spillway is surging toward the Mississippi Sound, and the oysters in the water are at risk.
The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources held meetings Wednesday to announce the program to help curb the effects of the water on the oysters.
"The water has been released, and it's heading our way and we want to act quickly," DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller told the crowded meeting room at the Bolton Building in Biloxi.
Those in the industry were in a panic.
"Get the oysters out of there before the Bonnet Carre kills them," said fisherman Randy Lesso.
The livelihoods of oyster fishermen and women are at risk, and they say the need for work is a top priority.
"We're all starving to death," said fisherwoman Paula Armbrusto.
DMR officials are hoping to curb concerns by offering a chance for people in the industry to help relay the oysters eastward, away from the freshwater. It was presented to the standing room only crowd at the Bolton Building's meeting room. After the meeting, the fishermen were able to sign up for the program.
However, not everyone was on board.
"It's just not fair, man. It's tough," said Bryan Hudson.
Hudson found out that he doesn't qualify for Phase One of DMR's Emergency Oyster Resource Recovery Program. One of the stipulations requires commercial fishermen to have held a license in 2011. Hudson says there wasn't an oyster season in 2011.
"So, I didn't purchase a license, and now they're going to hold it against me," said Hudson.
Others say the license shouldn't be an issue.
"You get a license every year, whether you need it or not," said fisherman Harold Strong.
According to Dr. Kelly Lucas with the DMR, there are certain unavoidable stipulations in place because the agency is state run.
"We're also bound by the grant," said Lucas.
The grant is disaster funds received in 2014 after damages occurred from the 2011 opening of the spillway. Lucas said it is a great opportunity for fishermen to help DMR protect the oysters.
Other complaints about the program include its requirement for liability insurance. But, several people in the industry, like Strong and Kim Clark, say insurance is necessary in cases.
"No state job is going to let you work uninsured," agreed Strong.
Strong thinks the program is the best thing DMR can do in the situation.
The DMR hopes that those who do qualify will be able to get to work as soon as possible. Lucas said DMR is working to open Biloxi Bay's oyster season sometime within this year.
Fishermen are now learning more details about what requirements they must reach to be eligible to participate in the program:
- Valid Mississippi drivers license or other state ID with photo
- Mississippi resident commercial oyster license in 2011-2012
- AND, Mississippi resident commercial oyster license in 2007-2008, 2008-2009, 2009-2010.
- AND, trip tickets from the year license was held
DMR officials will be holding more sign-up periods for this recovery program both Thursday and Friday at the Bolton Building from 9 a.m. -to 5 p.m.