BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The activity began before first light. At legal sunrise Monday, the tongers went about their trade on the Biloxi Bay reef, the only one open. This year, the harvest will be limited to 10,000 sacks, down from 35,000 last year.
That's due to record-breaking rainfall earlier this year, according to Paul Mickle the Department of Marine Resources science officer.
"When that happens, the dissolved oxygen crashes and the effect of that is, oyster mortality increases and that's been the driving force of these restricted harvests," Mickle explained.
And we're not alone in our oyster woes.
"The overall health of the oyster industry throughout the Gulf is not very good. There have been reduced harvests throughout the Gulf and Mississippi is not an exception," said Joe Jewell with the DMR.
Tonging for oysters is a tough job. Conditions on the water don't make it any easier.
"Rough weather, bad weather. Not seeing many oysters. Lot of shell. The opening of oyster season is not normal," said fisherman Drew Livings.
That rough weather means marine patrol officers are out in force. Chief Keith Davis is head of Marine Patrol for the DMR.
"The fisherman know what they're doing. We just try and be a presence out here to make sure they are being good neighbors to each other and staying safe," Davis said.
Now the decision to cut back on the harvest dramatically this year was a tough one to make for officials with the DMR, but despite that, they feel it was the right decision to make.
"It's going to be another difficult year for the fishermen but we do believe it's the right management decision," DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said. "We want this resource to be available in future years and we need to grow the resource. And one of the ways to do that is the constrain the harvest."
The Biloxi Bay reef is the only one that's open now. Reefs in the western part of the Mississippi Sound will open next month, with the same harvest restrictions.
Public and private oyster reefs in Mississippi will be closed on Sundays, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Day.