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Mississippi Oystermen May Have to Skip Dredging for Second Season in a Row

By Rhonda Miller | Published 19 Sep 2011 11:04pm | comments
Using water cannons to push limestone into the water helps restore oyster reefs off Pass Christian. The limestone gives juvenile oysters a surface to attach to and grow.

In a good year, the Mississippi oyster industry can bring $70 million into the state economy. But oysters have had a string of bad years, with Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and floodwaters. As MPB’s Rhonda Miller reports, most of this year’s crop was destroyed, and it may take two years to recover.

A few miles offshore from Pass Christian, oyster specialists from the state Department of Marine Resources are aboard the research vessel Conservationist. They idle the boat when they come to a group of barges. Fisheries biologist Steve Breland says workers are spraying water cannons to force mountains of rocks into the water.

"Right now what they’re doing, is we’re enhancing our oyster reefs. They’re spraying off limestone, number 57 limestone, on existing oyster reefs, which will help jump-start these reefs by attracting oyster spat, or juvenile oysters," says Breland. "And hopefully, in about 18 months to two years, we’ll have three-inch oysters."

Three-inch oysters are legal size for harvesting.  But waiting two years for them is the problem.  Eighty-five percent of Mississippi’s oyster crop was destroyed, mainly by fresh water flowing in from the flooding Mississippi River.

This season, limited tonging may be allowed. That's using long, rake-like tongs to grab oysters off the bottom in shallow water.

But state Shellfish Bureau Director Scott Gordon says the majority of commercial oystermen use bigger boats, in deeper water, for dredging oysters.  

(So what do you think about the possibility of dredging this season?) "From what I’ve seen, at this point in time, it doesn’t look promising, and at this point in time, I would not recommend any areas be open for dredging."

Long Beach fishermen Rudy Toler says he thinks this oyster season is going to be a flop.

"They’re saying that there are some oysters, but there’s not much," Toler said. "I guess if there’s a few oysters, I’ll go because I gotta work, I gotta feed my family. I’m married and I’ve got four kids." (How are you going to pay your bills?)" I don’t know. I don’t know."

Paying the bills will be the big challenge for Mississippi oystermen. Many of them have worked on the water for years and are not trained for any other job.

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Using water cannons to push limestone into the water helps restore oyster reefs off Pass Christian. The limestone gives juvenile oysters a surface to attach to and grow.


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