MOSS POINT, MS (WLOX) - Mississippi's oyster industry is in a re-building phase. The Commission on Marine Resources agrees on that. But there is much debate on choosing the best strategy to restore the resource.
"I think we all agree the condition of the reef now is not productive. Again, we're in a rebuilding stage," DMR Marine Fisheries Director Joe Jewell told the CMR at its meeting on Tuesday.
With a room full of fishermen looking on, the Commission on Marine Resources debated the future of that ailing industry.
"Until we come to a consensus on how we're going to bring this resource back, I think we're just beating a dead horse," said Commissioner Steve Bosarge.
Some sort of quota system seems to be the favored management approach, but even then there are choices.
"Establishing a quota for the overall area, like the reefs of the Western Sound, or potentially establishing a quota for individual areas," Jewell explained.
"We have to get a plan. But also, I think it's going to be that we have to treat each reef differently," said newly appointed Commissioner JoLynne Trapani, "Because it's like having ten kids. One child might need more help in math, and one might need more help with English. So, we can't just blanket this."
The message from the oystermen was clear: Don't forget about us.
"In none of this, is the fishermen mentioned anywhere in y'all's plans. Mr. Jewell and them, they want to close it down and rebuild the reefs. I'm all for it. Just put me to work. Each year, put us to work to rebuild our own reef," James "Catfish" Miller told the commission.
Commissioners talked about an upcoming oyster relay project, but even with that, there is some disagreement.
"By scattering these oysters out, will help to rebuild the reef. And we look at what we can harvest in the coming year," said Commissioner Bosarge.
"But it won't be in the coming year, it will be three years until that oyster reef is open. So you're putting the fishermen on hold for three years. That doesn't make sense to me. Where's the science?" said CMR Chairman Richard Gollott.
The CMR is planning a workshop to continue the oyster industry discussion.
The commission did vote to extend the oyster tonging season by two weeks. Tonging for oysters will be allowed in the waters of the Western Sound until March 15.