BILOXI -- State Department of Marine Resources officials on Tuesday said the future of oyster season reopening is still dependent on the flood level of the Pearl River.
During the regular February meeting of the Commission for Marine Resources, director of the Office of Marine Fisheries Joe Jewell said he doesn't have a definitive answer for when the season will reopen.
"We do intend to reopen the regular oyster season as soon we can," he said. "We have passed through the recent tests successfully."
Jewell said water samples were collected Monday and will be conducted again on Wednesday.
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The tests show the amount of bacteria brought into the Gulf of Mexico from the fresh water of the Pearl River.
"The Monday results are pending," he said.
The season was on track to reopen sooner than later, but the large amount of rainfall Monday affected the Pearl River, which was close to cresting.
"The rainfall brought significant water into the Pearl River basin, so that's not good news for the oystermen," he said.
It will be up to DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller to determine when oyster season will reopen. Miller was given the authority by the CMR to make the decision on reopening the reefs.
Jewell said oyster season traditionally closes in April.
The DMR set a 35,000 sack limit for the 2016 oyster season. About 21,000 sacks have yet to be harvested.
Oyster season came to a halt Dec. 11 after a destructive red tide algae bloom brought deadly bacteria.
And the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening in January also threatened oyster reefs as large amounts of fresh water were released into the Mississippi Sound north of the barrier islands. The 2008 opening destroyed almost 85 percent of local oysters.
As a preemptive measure, local oystermen were hired by the DMR to relocate 40,000 sacks of oysters from St. Joe reef in Hancock County to reefs in Pass Christian and Biloxi Bay. The oystermen were paid $20 per-sack of oysters that were moved to safer reefs for a total cost of $800,000.
Jewell said the recent opening of the spillway posed little threat to oyster reefs. It was the third time the spillway has been opened since 2008.
"It was opened for a total of 23 days," he said. "They opened 210 gates out of 350 gates. When it was opened, the Pearl River stayed below flood stage, but it rose above flood stage toward the end of January."