OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Fat, salty and historic. Those three words describe the fresh oysters harvested Tuesday from Biloxi Bay. It's the first time those reefs have been open to commercial oyster fishing in more than 50 years.
The Shearwater reef is located just outside the Ocean Springs Harbor. The Biloxi Bay Reef is located near Deer Island, south of the Biloxi Bay Bridge. These two reefs are open to tongers only, with a 15-sack limit per boat per day.
"The water quality over a series of samples and years has improved and since that's happened we've been able to open area. So that's the big change that's occurred," DMR Marine Fisheries Director Joe Jewell explained.
"When I was a kid, you used to see boats all outside that bridge," fisherman Mike Adams recalled. "We got as many as we wanted every day. And this is just an exciting time for everyone in this area that's done this all their life."
Some 46 oyster boats hit the Biloxi Bay reefs on this historic opening day. And by late morning the first boats were already unloading oysters.
"We finally got our limit. It was a little slower than what we figured, but it was the first day. We'll move around and try to get them a little better tomorrow," said Ted Gillespie. "They're just a little scattered in spots and you've got to hit a good spot and you can get them. You just got to feel around."
Once the oysters are harvested, they'll be put on ice and transferred to a processing station in the Pass Christian Harbor.
"We'll get whatever we were getting at the other site, which is about $35 a sack," fisherman George Storrs said. "That's good. If it's more, that's even better."
"It's like a reprieve to us. We needed that reprieve because Pass Christian is about played out. All our areas are. And this area right here was like a God send. It was wonderful," said George Storrs.
The busy opening day on the docks is what Jackson County Supervisor Randy Bosarge envisioned when he appeared before the Commission on Marine Resources in March, pleading with commissioners to open some reefs in Jackson County.
"Great day for Jackson County. We got a reef opened and, hopefully, the oysters are going to be good and we'll get some more reefs open," said Bosarge.
"We hope to continue to open the area to the east," DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said. "We're not there yet, but we hope to be able to open areas near Graveline and even further into Jackson County. So this is the first step in that direction."
The opening also extends the season for the fishermen. It could last as long as two to three months, or as short as two weeks.
"I think it might give us a chance to go all the way to the end of the season, the tonging season, instead of shutting it down this time of the year," seafood company owner Richard Gollott explained.
The final tally from the DMR shows the fishermen aboard those 46 boats, harvested a total of 441 sacks of oysters on opening day.