MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - Tuesday marks day two of the oyster relay program organized by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. Oyster fishermen are being paid to relocate thousands of oysters away from the harmful impact of freshwater intrusion caused by the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
Near the mouth of Biloxi Back Bay, heavy equipment and high pressure water hoses helped offload a barge full of oysters onto an existing reef Tuesday morning. They are among the oysters relayed from the eastern portion of the Mississippi Sound.
"We moved about 8,000 sacks of oysters from St. Joe into safer harbor into Biloxi Bay and Pass Christian. There was some slowness in that process. We've made some adjustments today, so we hope that pace will pick up," said DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller.
At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Commission on Marine Resources voted to allow heavier dredges for the special permit oyster relay work. It is part of the adjustment process to help overcome slow loading times that hampered opening day efforts.
"We were moving quickly, so we knew we had some logistical challenges. A lot of it was with unloading the boats to the barge. We had a higher daily sack limit than most of these boats were used to," said Miller.
Despite the glitches, the commission member who represents commercial fishermen on the CMR said most of the feedback has been positive.
"They see it as a positive step toward saving a few of the oysters that may or may not be killed due to the Bonnet Carre opening," said Commissioner Steve Bosarge.
The main point of the oyster relay is to move these oysters out of harm's way and away from the freshwater intrusion.
The CMR received some encouraging news about the extent of that freshwater impact on the reefs.
"With the way things sit today, we're not anticipating an event that happened in 2011, where we had 90 to 95 percent mortality on the reefs," Marine Fisheries Director Joe Jewell told the CMR.
The oyster relay program is expected to last for at least a few more days. About 150 oyster fishermen qualified to take part in the oyster relay program. They are paid $20 a sack, with a daily limit of 200 sacks.