Oyster fishermen see “mixed results” on tour of area reefs


PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) – The DMR took fishermen on a boat trip Wednesday, inviting them to check out the health of area oyster reefs.

They took samples from several of the most popular oyster fishing areas just south of Pass Christian harbor. What they found was both encouraging and disappointing.

Fishermen are understandably worried about what impact the oil spill may have had or may still have, on their favorite oyster reefs.

That is why DMR invited them on the excursion to check out the abundance and quality of the oysters.

The initial samples were quite promising, but as the boat went farther out, the catch was not good.

“We’ll put the dredge over, then pull that up, and they can have a look for themselves,” DMR’s Scott Gordon explained, as the boat pulled away from the dock.

The DMR invited fishermen on this excursion to check out the reefs firsthand. The first dredge was dropped on the Pass Christian tonging reef just a mile or so from shore.

Gordon says any oil impact on the reefs is a question that is yet to be answered. As for any oil or dispersant directly on the reefs, he’s not seen any evidence.

“We’ve not seen any of that from any of our samples. But we are continuing to look for that,” Gordon explained.

The first samples pulled aboard look promising.

“Lot of new growth, looks real good, lot of new growth,” said one fisherman.

“It takes between 18 to 24 months for an oyster to get to the legal three inch size,” said Gordon.

Along with letting fishermen check out the quality of oysters, a DMR team also takes samples of the oyster meat; samples that will be tested in the lab for safety.

Seafood dealer Darlene Kimball said she is not only worried about the success of this year’s oyster season, she’s concerned about the public’s perception of seafood safety.

“We have to build trust back with the local consumers and the consumers in other states. We have to let them know our product is safe to eat. And doing all this testing is backing up what we have to say,” said Kimball.

Something that looks like a worm inside the oyster is actually a very good sign; it’s an enzyme chain oysters use to eat.

“That shows us the oysters are actively feeding,” Gordon explained.

But after several signs of promise, samples taken farther from shore are discouraging.

“I see with my eyes, it’s bad,” said oyster fisherman Ngoc Nguyen.

He says the absence of oysters is bad news. Far too many of the shells are barren.

“From 80 to 90 percent of the oysters dead, I think a bad season,” said Nguyen.

Scott Gordon is also concerned, but says keep in mind, one trip is a very small sampling.

“We have 10,000 to 12,000 acres of reefs. And where we go looking today, that’s kind of a snapshot of that particular area,” said Gordon.

There’s been no date set yet for the opening of oyster season.

Scott Gordon says several areas are traditionally opened in September or October. Lab test results from the samples taken on Wednesday should be ready in about a week.

Copyright 2010 WLOX. All rights reserved.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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