Mississippi Oyster Season Harvests Optimism

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - This is a day people who love oysters definitely look forward to. Sacks of freshly harvested oyster shells were pulled out of the Mississippi Sound.

According to a Mississippi Department of Marine Resources news release, the 2008 oyster season is supposed to be "the first 'normal' season since Katrina" wiped out reefs, and paralyzed the industry.

Kevin Livings was glad to be back out on the water.

"This is something I like to do. I like oystering," the Pass Christian man said.

Livings had one of the 38 boats out on the Mississippi Sound, dredging and tonging for fresh oysters.

"The reef has come back good. They've got a lot of oysters out there," he noted.

Every sack filled and unloaded on the season's opening day was a labor of love. And for a 76-year-old Pass Christian man, it was pretty good exercise.

"You don't have to go to one of them places to exercise," John Ulrich, Sr. joked. "You just have to go out there, and you'll get all the exercise you need, legs, arms, your whole body."

When Hurricane Katrina whipped across the coast, it destroyed oyster reefs, and messed up the 2005 and 2006 oyster seasons. So, the only real money fisherman made during those years was when they got paid by the DMR to help assess and replenish damaged reefs. Now that it's two years since those recovery efforts, the DMR believes sack totals will meet or exceed pre-Katrina levels.

Joseph Arguelles noticed plenty of oyster sacks being unloaded off of boats.

"We knew they were going to come back one day," he said, referring to the reefs just beyond Pass Christian's shoreline.

The first day of oyster season wasn't announced until the last minute. So the pleasant surprise caught most fishermen a bit off guard.

"We sure needed this," Roscoe Liebig said.

You see, Liebig had a rough summer looking for shrimp. His first foray searching for oysters was a lot more encouraging.

"Looks good. The reef looks good. We're glad for it," he said.

Mississippi oysters will be harvested and sacked until next spring.