BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - After weeks of discussion, an oyster relay program has been approved by the Commission on Marine Resources.
About 19,000 sacks of oysters will be taken from the waters off Pascagoula and moved to cleaner waters further west. The $1 million program is funded with money from the Bonnet Carre disaster relief program. Local fishermen damaged by the opening of the spillway in 2011 will be hired, but many aren't exactly happy about it.
Fishermen packed the CMR meeting room waiting for the vote. The end result was a reduced amount of money will be paid for each sack harvested, up to about 100 sacks.
Drew Livings is a fisherman. "Well, I think $30 bucks is entirely too little. Not enough money, way too low... because of the amount of labor intensive work that's involved in it. I believe it should be set at $45 dollars a sack like it was originally planned."
The relay program will be open for both tongers and dredgers. Fisherman John Livings also disagreed, "I think it's too low. I mean the money was allotted to the fishermen for lost wages. That was the whole part of the program. That's what it was for."
Plucking oysters from the sea is not for the timid. Fishermen say the pay should reflect that.
Thao Vu is an advocate for the fishing industry on the Coast. "I think it should be much higher. It's very labor intensive work, backbreaking, and the distance, the additional expense of the fuel and the time involved. It's a long day for fishermen," he said.
Why such a long debate over the program mystifies many like John Livings. He stated, "I don't know why they're trying to be so nit-picky about the money because they money is there for the fishermen to go to work."
Although almost every oyster fisherman I talked with today say they're unhappy with the $30 dollar price, especially with the reduction from $45 dollars. They also say they're probably going work for it because they simply have no choice.
That's the opinion of Drew Livings. He said, "You have to go with whatever it is, because you have to work, because you still have to pay all your stall rents, and our bills and all that comes due. You have to go to work. So we're at the mercy of them, whatever they set it at is what we're going to make."
Fisherman Edward Rhodes agreed, "I think out backs are against the wall and they'll work. I know I will, I'll be there. We just have to take it one day at a time."
And one paycheck at a time.
It could be several weeks before the program is actually up and running. First, a contractor will have to be hired to transport the oysters once they are harvested by the fishermen.