Harrison County

New Mississippi rule on oysters not based on science, Vietnamese group says in lawsuit

Oyster fishermen Minh Tran, left, and Can Nguyen sift through a dredged sample of oysters while touring the reefs near Pass Christian with the Department of Marine Resources on Sept. 1, 2010.
Oyster fishermen Minh Tran, left, and Can Nguyen sift through a dredged sample of oysters while touring the reefs near Pass Christian with the Department of Marine Resources on Sept. 1, 2010. amccoy@sunherald.com file

A lawsuit alleges the state’s ban on basket dredges for harvesting oysters was illegally based on “personal opinion and conjecture” and erodes the livelihood of Vietnamese American fishers.

Thao Vu and the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisher Folks are suing the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources over a ban its Commission on Marine Resources recommended. The ban went in effect Sept. 1.

The lawsuit, filed Oct. 16 in Harrison County Chancery Court in Biloxi, is appealing the ban.

The DMR went against state seafood laws that say fishery management plans and conservation efforts must be based on “the best scientific information available,” according to the civil complaint.

Testimony at CMR meetings showed no scientific evidence to confirm that basket dredges harm reefs, the lawsuit said.

Paul Mickle, DMR’s chief science officer, testified he had conducted extensive research and found no evidence that basket dredges cause increased mortality, burial or other damage as compared to the bag dredge, according to the lawsuit.

CMR Commissioner Richard Gollott had said in an April meeting that basket dredges should not be a problem on reefs at Pass Marianne, Telegraph and other hard reefs, the suit said.

Vu and the MS CVAFF claim the commission failed to consider the economic impact on the Vietnamese-American community, estimated to be a loss of more than $100,000. Vu is president of the organization.

The cost to convert a basket dredge to a bag dredge is nearly $1,400 per dredge, and the need for a backup dredge doubles the cost, the complaint said.

Basket dredges are self-dumping, require less muscle and fewer deckhands, and have lower maintenance than bag dredges, the plaintiffs said.

“In 2005, Vietnamese-Americans caught approximately 500,000 sacks of oysters,” according to the lawsuit.

“If basket dredges were so debilitating to the oyster population, how could these reefs be so plentiful after utilizing basket dredges for nearly a century?”

More than 80 percent of the Vietnamese population on the Mississippi Coast is tied to the commercial fishing industry, the lawsuit said.

A lawsuit represents one side of a complaint.

“We are currently reviewing the lawsuit, but we cannot comment on pending litigation,” DMR spokesman Melissa Scallan said.

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews

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