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Oyster season on track to reopen but date still indefinite

TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD 
 Before the sun rises, fishermen leave Pass Christian harbor as they head to oyster reefs. Harvesting of Coast oysters have suffered from Hurricane Katrina, BP oil spill and 2011 Bonnet Carre release of flood water.
TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD Before the sun rises, fishermen leave Pass Christian harbor as they head to oyster reefs. Harvesting of Coast oysters have suffered from Hurricane Katrina, BP oil spill and 2011 Bonnet Carre release of flood water. SUN HERALD

Officials with the state Department of Marine Resources said Thursday the agency is a step closer to reopening oyster season on the Coast.

The DMR closed the season Dec. 11 when large amounts of bacteria from red tide algae bloom were found in the Mississippi Sound north of the barrier islands.

But cooler weather helped dissipate the algae and water samples showed only a small presence of the bacteria. A test performed on the oysters was sent to the FDA for approval before the reefs could be reopened.

"All of our sample came back clear of red tide," said Melissa Scallan, DMR public affairs director.

The New Orleans District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently announced it will begin closing the Bonnet Carre Spillway. The spillway was opened earlier this month to disperse flooding from heavy rains upriver.

When the spillway was opened in 2011, it killed about 85 percent of the state's oysters.

To prevent this from happening when the spillway was opened this year, the DMR hired area oystermen to transplant oysters from threatened areas to safer reefs.

Scallan said it will still be at least a couple of weeks before the reefs can be reopened.

"What we are doing now is watching the Pearl River and seeing how high it gets," she said. "It will crest sometime between Sunday and Tuesday."

The rising river poses a potential threat to the reefs as too much fresh water could kill the oysters.

"We will be taking a water sample on Monday to check the oysters," Scallan said.

She said the testing is nothing out of the ordinary.

"We don't always have a red tide or the Bonnet Carre opening," she said. "But we always test the oysters before we reopen the reefs, especially when there has been a lot of rain."

With no significant rain in the immediate forecast, Scallan said she is optimistic about getting the season reopened.

"As soon as we can get it opened, we will do so," she said. "It is not uncommon to open and close oyster seasons. We hope to have it reopened very soon."

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