More than a month after oyster season was closed by a red tide algae bloom, officials with the state Department of Marine Resources announced an emergency oyster-relocation program began today at sunrise.
The program's aim is to save oysters before they get damaged by fresh water moving into the Gulf from the Bonnet Carre Spillway, and to provide employment for oystermen who have been out of work since Dec. 11.
Oysters will be taken from St. Joe Reef and placed on barges outside Bayou Caddy in Hancock County. They'll be taken to reefs in the eastern part of Pass Christian and Biloxi Bay.
Only oystermen who qualified for the program will be able participate in the relocation program. Required were a valid driver's license, a commercial oyster license for 2011-12 and a commercial license for any year between 2007 and 2011.
Paperwork for the program was completed Wednesday at DNR offices.
"This program will operate similar to a regular oyster season," DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said. "Fishermen will check in at the check stations, go to the oyster reef, catch the oysters and offload at the designated barge."
Miller had said Wednesday the commercial fishermen qualifying for the program would become contractors of the state and would need $1 million in liability insurance. After some backlash from local oystermen, Miller said the policy had changed.
"Fishermen will not be required to become contractors of the state; therefore will not need to purchase general liability insurance," he said. "Because of this, more fishermen will be able to participate in this program."
The check-in points for the program are the Pass Christian Check Station and the Bayou Caddy Check Station.
The limit is 200 sacks of oysters per boat per day.