Fishermen hope to rescue oysters, as well as their livelihood

Fishermen hope to rescue oysters, as well as their livelihood

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Coast fishermen are preparing to make much-needed money in the face of disaster.

Beginning at sunrise Monday, fisherman will begin to move oysters to safety away from surging fresh water into the Mississippi Sound. But, it won't be easy, and the money likely won't be enough to make up for a disastrous six-year struggle.

The Oyster Recovery Program is allowing fishermen to move oysters from the St. Joe's Reef south of Waveland out of harm's way. Fresh water from the recently opened Bonnet Carre spillway is threatening their habitat.

"Whatever we can do to save them, it will help," said oysterman Billy Barnett. "If it wipes what we got out there and we bring these back that's alive, at least it's a new start."

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says it could be a five-day program, but no one is sure, including Barnett.

"Nobody knows nothing until it's done," Barnett said. "It might last three days, it might last two weeks, it might last 10 days. We don't know. But whatever we can get, we'll be thankful for."

The oysters will be loaded on barges and moved from the St. Joe reef east to reefs in either Biloxi Bay or the eastern portion of Pass Christian.

According to DMR, 100 fishermen are approved to capture the oysters, but officials don't know how many will actually participate.

Oystermen are limited to 200 sacks a day at $20 a sack. However, some say that number is unfair to the smaller boats that can't make the limit.

"People fooling themselves if they think they're going to make it," said Michael Tillman. "They're not going to do it. And I mean, it's going to be a mess there with a bunch of boats there trying to make that all on one little reef. It's going to be impossible. But, we'll make what we can because right now, every little bit helps."

James "Catfish" Miller says the limit should be lower to give everyone a chance to make money from the program, and not just those with big machinery.

Miller says over the last six years, oystermen have been able to work only about eight months in state waters.

"Everybody from the tonger, the dredger - everybody needs a job at this point in time," Miller added. "Because we're all struggling to pay our harbor stalls, power bills, our mortgage."

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