Oyster prediction: ‘We’re in for a short season’

Crewmen carry oyster bags to the boat Friday morning at dawn at the Pass Christian harbor.
Crewmen carry oyster bags to the boat Friday morning at dawn at the Pass Christian harbor. ttisbell@sunherald.com / File

Oyster boats were hauling in oysters on the opening day of the season Monday, but reports were not good.

By 4 p.m., the end of the day, Joe Jenkins’ boats out of Pass Christian had harvested a little over half the 25-sack limit per boat allowed by the state Department of Marine Resources.

Based on that, Jenkins told the Sun Herald, “I think we’re in for a short season.”

The day began at dawn and fishermen were trying to be optimistic heading out.

But Jenkins — owner of Pass Purchase and Crystal Seas Oyster Co. — said the results were not good by the end of the day.

“A lot of oysters were dead,” he said. “Oysters have been dying for the last months. It’s getting worse and worse.”

He blamed oxygen depletion in the waters along the reefs in the western Mississippi Sound, south of Pass Christian.

“The professional fishermen on my boats only caught 14 or 15 sacks,” he said late Monday afternoon. “Short supplies.”

DMR commissioners were leery when they voted last month to open the reefs to oystering. The mid-August rains that inundated the Baton Rouge area also hit the Coast and its oyster beds.

Believing 80,000 sacks of oysters on the reefs survived the rains and other mortality events, they set the limit for the season at 28,000 sacks.

Roughly 100 oyster boats would be vying for that total.

“A lot of rain killed about half of our oysters in mid-August,” said DMR spokeswoman Melissa Scallan. She said this was both near shore and further out, where oyster dredge boats go.

“We had said we weren’t sure how good it was going to be, how many were out there,” she said. “We were hopeful.”

That’s why the DMR allowed only up to 35 percent of what it believed was out there.

“We’ll update at the October meeting. It will take awhile to get a good sense of how it is going,” she said.

Scallan said they allow a number of sacks and set the limit, “but you never know until you go out there.”

The sack limit set for boats was 25 for those who dredge up oysters and 15 for those who pull them in by tongs.

Commissioners also voted unanimously to place a moratorium on license sales for oyster harvesting, which became effective with the vote last month. The moratorium applies to recreational and commercial licenses. If you did not have a license last year, you could not get one this year.

License sales were limited to fishermen who purchased an oyster license from March 2015 through April 2016.