BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Oyster fishermen in Mississippi, can't catch a break. Following a year plagued by red tide and river flooding, the early sampling this summer looked promising. But a mid-August "mortality event" on the reefs, changed that optimistic forecast.
"You know these fishermen, they've already had to put up with several years of not very good seasons. And it's really disturbing to me that we have to deal with a natural mortality event like this," said the DMR's Scott Gordon, as he addressed the Commission on Marine Resources at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
Gordon told the CMR that early samples this summer had been looking good. Then came a series of events in mid-August, including three days of heavy rainfall, that decimated the oyster reefs. For example, on the Henderson Point reef, before this "mortality event", things were looking promising.
"Nearly 37,000 sacks of oysters. Now we feel that there's just a little over 3,400 sacks of oysters," said Gordon.
Commission Chairman Richard Gollott says it's important to open the season and let the fishermen get to work as soon as possible.
"That's why my recommendation is, open on October 3rd, with the same sack limits we had last year," he said.
However, his suggestion that the overall oyster harvest quota be put off until next month's meeting, resulted in that motion failing.
"I want these fishermen to be able to make a living. And leaving 60,000 sacks of oysters out there and not harvesting them, for what? They're marketable oysters. If something's ripe and ready to harvest, harvest it. Let them make a living," he told his fellow commissioners.
A compromise quota of 35 percent of the available oysters led to the motion's approval.
While the resource itself may be diminishing, at least oyster fishermen may have a little less competition this year. That's because the CMR voted unanimously to impose a moratorium on new oyster licenses, effective immediately.
One more bit of oyster news: For the first time since perhaps the 1950s a portion of Biloxi Bay will be open for oyster harvest, beginning November first.
Again, the opening day for oyster season is Monday, October 3rd. Daily sack limits are 25 sacks of oysters for dredgers, and 15 sacks a day for those fishermen who tong for oysters.