Thanksgiving means oyster dressing on Coast tables, but the oysters won't be from Mississippi if they're fresh.
Oystermen had only two brief days on the water before the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources closed the oyster reefs the afternoon of Nov. 12. The reefs closed because projections were the Pearl River would reach 12.5 feet. At that height, Mississippi's management plan calls for the reefs to close because bacteria could infiltrate the water.
DMR Director Jamie Miller said the river reached 12.5 feet at 11 p.m. Friday and is still rising. DMR must wait until after the river crests before sampling the water to see if the reefs can be reopened. He expects Monday will be the earliest the reefs will reopen.
"We want to make sure that the oysters are safe," Miller said. "When we have a high river stage, like we're seeing now, that would potentially be bringing bacteria over our oyster reefs that we would water sample before we open ... Because oysters are consumed raw and they're filter feeders, you have to be very careful about the water quality.
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"It's part of Mississippi's management plan."
Meanwhile, they're fishing away for oysters over in Louisiana. It's frustrating for Mississippi oystermen, but good news for
people whose Thanksgiving grocery lists include fresh oysters.
Darlene Kimball of Kimball Seafood in Pass Christian's harbor said "diehard fans" will hold out for Mississippi oysters, but for everyone else Louisiana oysters are available for $65 a sack. A sack holds 300 oysters, give or take.
Mayor Chipper McDermott longs for the old days, when boats stacked up in the harbor to unload their oysters. Hurricane Katrina decimated the reefs in 2005 and the BP oil spill in 2010 dashed a rebound. It's not been the same since, he and others said.
A state oyster council report quantifies the problem. It says that in 2004, 400,000 sacks of oysters were harvested from Mississippi waters. By 2014, only 26,000 sacks were pulled from the reefs.
"The reefs were very stressed at best," the report says. "In fact, industry representatives and Mississippi Department of Marine Resources biologists debated if Mississippi should open the past season at all."
Everyone keeps thinking next season will be better, Kimball said. The season is expected to close at 4 p.m. Dec. 12.
McDermott would like to see the city's new commercial harbor filled. It was built because of the strong seafood industry in Pass Christian.
But he'd also like a sack of Mississippi oysters fresh off a boat. He prefers them straight, shucked with a couple of buddies in the back of a pickup truck right there in the harbor and washed down with beer.