MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - The Commission on Marine Resources voted on Tuesday to approve a controversial ban on the use of basket dredges on Mississippi's oyster reefs.
Supporters of the ban say that equipment damages young oysters, but some Vietnamese fishermen say they're being unfairly singled out.
"For the past 30 years, I've been using a basket dredge because of safety issues. It's much safer than a bag dredge," said Thao Vu, who was translating the words of an elderly Vietnamese fisherman for the CMR.
One after another, Vietnamese fishermen voiced support for allowing the basket dredges. They say the more popular bag dredges are more difficult to maneuver.
"We will have to climb on the table to try, right, to try and pull that dredge in. And when we do that, it's endangering us. That is less safe than a self-dumping basket dredge," said Vu, speaking on behalf of a female fisherman.
The DMR's chief scientific officer told the commission a massive review of available literature and science found very little evidence regarding the impact of basket versus bag dredges.
But, he said it may be a moot point, given the larger questions about the industry.
"On a large scale, how we're going to get our oysters in a better condition. They are, in my opinion, in very poor shape this year. Especially, it's no one's fault, this fresh water has really decreased their overall mass and reproductive capabilities. They're really struggling this summer," Dr. Paul Mickle told the board.
Veteran oyster fisherman Harold Strong supports the ban on the heavier basket dredges.
"The more weight you put on a dredge, the more damage it does," Strong told the CMR. "Somewhere along the line, somebody is going to have to do something right. First step is getting rid of the thing that's harming them the most."
After tabling the issue last month, Commissioner Jolynne Trapani made a motion to adopt the ban.
"This change will help us to restore and rebuild our reefs, therefore helping our oyster industry," Trapani said before making the motion.
The commission then voted 3-1 in favor of the ban, with newly elected Chairman Steve Bosarge, casting the lone "no" vote.