Oyster fishermen not optimistic about 2016 season

Oyster fishermen not optimistic about 2016 season

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - Oyster season in Mississippi opens one week from Monday, but coast fishermen are not very optimistic about the harvest this year. The word most used to describe the industry is "struggle," as oyster reefs have been plagued by various issues in recent years, including the BP oil spill, red tides, fish kills and river flooding. Most recently, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources says a natural mortality event has killed many of the harvestable oysters.

"I don't think our industry can stand much more than what we're going through now, the pressure," said longtime fisherman James "Catfish" Miller.

Miller says limited seasons have taken a toll among fishermen.

"If we go out and have another 15 day season or 25 day season, this is another failure like last year," he said.

Many of the oyster fishermen, are also shrimpers.

"Four bucks a pound, or we got some for $2.50," said Jason Dennis, quoting prices as he showed off the fresh shrimp he was selling.

Dennis and Dylan Cordova sell fresh shrimp off Brad Stapleton's boat, the M.T. Pockets. But on Monday, they'll put aside shrimping and take a chance on the nearby oyster reefs.

"It will be a tough season," said Dennis. "I'm not sure what we're going to do about it. It's going to be, it's going to be a struggle. I can tell you that."

Several of the oystermen said they believe the bag limit should be lowered from 25 sacks per day for dredgers, down to 15 sacks or so. They say that would make the price better and would help the season last a bit longer.

As he prepares for another oyster season, Catfish Miller says BP restoration money is still on his mind. He thinks a portion of it should go towards paying fishermen to restore the reefs.

"Let us rejuvenate our reef ourselves," he said. "Turning it over. Replanting. Moving our oysters from different areas around the coast, here to our reef out here to replenish it."

For now, many fishermen will try their luck on the nearby reefs, beginning early Monday morning.

For the first time in decades, a portion of Biloxi Bay will also be open to oystering this year but that area will not open until Nov. 1.

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