BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Tuesday will be a historic day for the coast seafood industry. For the first time in half a century, Biloxi Bay will be open to commercial oyster harvesting.
Oyster fishermen are excited about the historic opportunity. And the DMR expects thousands of sacks of fresh oysters will be harvested from the reefs in Biloxi Bay in the coming weeks.
It's been 50 years since a commercial oyster harvest was allowed in Biloxi Bay. The Ocean Springs harbormaster remembers.
"I was 12 years old and I was out there catching oysters with my brother in law. So, those oysters haven't been touched in years and I'm looking forward to the fishermen catching some nice oysters," said Danny Jalanavich.
The Department of Marine Resources is ready for the historic season opening. It has a check station set-up at Ocean Springs Harbor. The oyster fishing will be tonging only, with a 15 sack per day limit.
"There are two major reef areas. One is near Ocean Springs harbor, which is called Shearwater reef. And then there's one out in the central part of the bay that's called the Biloxi Reef. And those are the two larger areas we expect most of the activity to be happening at," said Joe Jewell, Marine Fisheries Director for the DMR.
The fishermen are certainly excited and anxious to get this historic season started. Boats parked at Ocean Springs Harbor belong to oyster fishermen who'll hit the waters first thing Tuesday morning.
"It's been forever since this has been open," said longtime oysterman George Storrs.
He's thankful Biloxi Bay will be open for tonging oysters. It's a welcome boost to an ailing industry.
"It's been horrible for the last ten years, it's been horrible for a tonger. But you know, as long as the oyster, if there's a resource, we'll find it and we'll make it. We'll survive," said Storrs.
Oysters at the harbor will be unloaded on a conveyer belt, then loaded onto a refrigerated truck for transport to the processors.
"It's more oysters out there than you can shake a stick at. Those oysters hadn't been touched in like I said, probably 50 years. And it's, I think there's plenty of them out there," said Jalanavich.
For many years, poor water quality in Biloxi Bay prevented the commercial harvest of oysters. But the DMR has worked with the DEQ and FDA on a long-term program to improve water quality. And the water is now good enough to allow the oyster season.