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Oyster sack limits may be raised for South Mississippi harvesters

JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD/2008 
 Fidel Vasquez, left, and Louis Erick unload oysters from the Miss Amber in September 2008 at the Pass Christian Harbor.
JOHN FITZHUGH/SUN HERALD/2008 Fidel Vasquez, left, and Louis Erick unload oysters from the Miss Amber in September 2008 at the Pass Christian Harbor. SUN HERALD

BILOXI -- Area oystermen may be able to increase their harvest this season after the Commission on Marine Resources voted unanimously Friday to allow state Department of Marine Resources to explore raising the daily sack limits.

The CMR recently lowered the sack limit from 45,000 to 35,000 for the season. On Nov. 17, it set the daily sack limit at 10 sacks for tongers and 15 sacks for dredgers.

Joe Jewell, DMR director of Marine Fisheries, said about 3,400 sacks have been harvested so far this season.

"(Thursday's) the best day we've had," he said. "We harvested over 1,000 sacks. We've had just under 300 trips this season."

It was Commissioner Shelby Drummond's motion to authorize DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller to explore the idea of increasing the sack limit. Although the vote on Drummond's motion was unanimous, it met with initial resistance from Commissioner Steve Bosarge.

Bosarge said he had been talking with some fishermen who hoped the sack limits would not increase.

"Their concerns are that Louisiana just closed its public grounds and the fishermen are afraid that if we raise our sack limits, the Louisiana guys are going to come and fish our reefs," he said. "We already have a moratorium because of their hardship clause, so anyone can show a hardship."

Raising the sack limit, he said, would hurt the fishermen who can't afford to fish outside the state or on private reefs.

"These fishermen don't have another outlet once the reef is fished out," he said.

Drummond said he was standing by his motion, but that the decision rests with Miller.

"Jamie doesn't have to raise any of these things, but he has the authority to do it if he sees fit," Drummond said. "If you can convince him not to do it, that's fine, but I'm going with my motion. But it's up to Jamie. That's what we pay him that big money for."

Miller said he would research the issue before making a recommendation to the commission.

DMR officials announced Friday the St. Joe Reef south of Bayou Caddy would reopen Saturday at sunrise. It follows Wednesday's opening of the northern portions of Pass Christian and Henderson reefs, Hornet Reef, Waveland and St. Stanislaus reefs and the public reefs in Bay St. Louis.

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