Another reef closure adds salt to the wounds of fishermen

Another reef closure adds salt to the wounds of fishermen

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - It's been a tough season for oyster fishermen. Just a week after reopening the reefs in March, fishermen were hit with another blow: heavy rains forcing another shut down.

Sunday was a beautiful intro to spring, and a good day for boat maintenance. But not for oyster fishing.

"When you're down, you can't work, you can work on your boat and get it into pretty good shape," said oyster fisherman Billy Barnett. "But there's no money in working on a boat. All that does is take money."

The season has been closed since Dec. 11 because of red tide concerns, and the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway after excessive rainfall.

But after re-opening the reefs March 3, the DMR closed them again March 11 because of freshwater intrusion from the Pearl River.

Now, fishermen say oyster sacks are better used as trash cans.

"I tell ya, it's getting critical," Barnett said. "I don't think we've worked about 20 days the whole year. I don't even like to think about it no more. It's, it's crazy."

James "Catfish" Miller is the de facto spokesperson for oyster fishermen.

"They had a relay program that they done for us that helped us out a little bit this season, but it ain't on the road to recovery," Miller said. "And that's my goal out here is to recover our reefs."

Miller is pushing DMR to open more reefs eastward into Jackson County.

"We need to get off this little prison ground that we're on out here and go and try other areas," Miller added.

Miller says he hopes to have a large group of fishermen attend the regular Commission on Marine Resources meeting to discuss problems with the oyster industry. The meeting is at 10 a.m. Tuesday at Gautier City Hall.

However, DMR spokesperson Melissa Scallan says the reefs there are not open because the water quality is too low. DMR will test the water Monday, if possible, and should know Tuesday afternoon if the reefs can be reopened.

Barnett says he will go out if the reefs are reopened, but mostly he's preparing for shrimp season.

"I'm looking forward, maybe catching a few of the hopper shrimp that should be showing up. Maybe we can make a few dollars hoppering."

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