Fishermen begin oyster relay under DMR program

Fishermen begin oyster relay under DMR program
The fishermen will be transferring the oysters east away from incoming freshwater that could damage the crop. (Photo source: WLOX)
The fishermen will be transferring the oysters east away from incoming freshwater that could damage the crop. (Photo source: WLOX)

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - The quest to save South Mississippi's oysters continued Monday. Coast fishermen were out on the Mississippi Sound all morning working to relocate oysters. The fishermen were working with the Department of Marine Resources to not only save the oyster crop, but to also save their livelihood.

For the first time in months, the Pass Christian Harbor was alive with activity as fishermen readied their boats for a day's work. Over the past five years, many of these fishermen have had a very limited amount of time on the water, if any.

"Everybody's excited to do it," said fisherman Shelby Cooper.

Cooper helped other members of his crew stack empty sacks in hopes of filling up to 200 of them after daybreak. At $20 a sack, Cooper said it's not a lot, but every bit helps.

"Making money. It's always tough to pay bills," said Copper.

The fishermen will be transferring the oysters east away from incoming freshwater that could damage the crop.

"Let them grown and get them bigger, so we can keep going," said Cooper.

It's all an effort by the Department of Marine Resources to combine the needs of the fishermen with the need to save the oysters.

"This is a different program for us. We're happy to do it. We want to put the fishermen to work. We also want to save the resource," said DMR Spokesperson Melissa Scallan.

According to Scallan, almost 150 fishermen were approved to take part in the program. And, although a similar program happened in 2006, she said the size and scope of this effort is unprecedented.

"I'm sure there will be things that come up today that we will have to deal with that maybe we didn't anticipate," said Scallan.

Those working the sign-in say only a few hitches showed up in the process. One fishermen that came across a bit of a hiccup in his paperwork was Harold Strong.

"It was thrown together fast as they could do it, and you're always going to have a few missteps when you do it that way," said Strong.

But, Strong was happy to see work come his way.

"We'll get something. That's better than nothing," he said.

And with that, it was out on the water and back to the grind.

Many of the concerns expressed by fishermen at a recent workshop were taken into consideration by DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller. Those concerns included requirements for eligibility in the program. Miller said one concern was the stipulation that each boat was required to carry insurance to participate.

"The way we worked around that was basically a contract with the dealer processor," said Miller.

This made it to where the DMR would pay the processors and the processors would pay the fishermen.

Another concern that fishermen had was that many of the boats wouldn't be able to make the long trip from the St. Joe Reef to Biloxi.

"We ended up hiring the Marine Transport Company, a barge company to make that haul," said Miller.

Miller hopes that the fishing community understands that the DMR is on their side.

"They just want to go fish. They want to earn their living like they're used to doing. I want them to take away that the department is serious about their livelihood about their industry. We do try to manage based on them as a part of the resource, not just the oysters themselves, but that we keep them employed," said Miller.

Officials tell us more than 60 boats were out on the water Monday morning to help relay the oysters. DMR officials anticipate the relay taking up to five days to complete, but they say it could be longer.
    
Copyright 2016 WLOX. All rights reserved.