Oyster season in limbo after Pearl River flooding

Coast oystermen expect the worst from Bonnet Carre release

The release of flood waters from the Bonnet Carre spillway has Coast oystermen fearing devastation of oysters.
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The release of flood waters from the Bonnet Carre spillway has Coast oystermen fearing devastation of oysters.

GAUTIER -- Oyster season for South Mississippi remains on hiatus as the recent Pearl River flooding has left too much freshwater in the Mississippi Sound.

During Tuesday's Commission on Marine Resources meeting in Gautier, Department of Marine Resources director of Marine Fisheries Joe Jewell said he could not predict if and when the season will reopen.

"We took some water samples this week and they were not good," he said. "We're continuing to take samples and monitor the cresting of the Pearl River."

It has been a roller coaster ride for local oystermen as the season has been plagued with problems.

The season opened with a special oyster relay at the first of December. The regular season was opened Nov. 10 with a tonging limit of seven sacks and dredging limit at 10 sacks. The CMR set the limit for the season at 35,000 sacks, raising the limit for tongers to 10 sacks and dredgers to 15 sacks.

On Dec. 4, the CMR gave DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller authority to set the 2015 sack limit and oyster quota, Jewell said, as well as close any reefs deemed over-harvested.

The season was interrupted Dec. 11 after an outbreak of destructive red tide algae.

"At that point, we had harvested 13,530 sacks of oysters," Jewell said.

The next hurdle oystermen faced was when parts of the Bonnet Carre Spillway were opened Jan. 10. It closed Feb. 1.

The DMR hired local oystermen to relocate oysters Jan. 18-20 from St. Joe Reef in Hancock County to reefs in Pass Christian and Biloxi. About 40,000 sacks of oyster were moved during the emergency program.

Jewel said it was a preemptive move to protect the oysters from potential hazards caused by the spillway opening.

Regular oyster season was reopened again March 3, with a tonging limit of 15 sacks and dredging limit of 25 sacks.

Jewell said 14,725 sacks were harvested before the season closed again March 11 because of flooding along the Pearl River.

"For the 2015-16 oyster season, we have harvested 28,255 sacks," he said.

Jewell said the DMR also will likely close red drum season by the end of this week because of quota allotment, which is 20,000 pounds.