Marine officials are signing up Mississippi oyster fishermen for an emergency work program intended to move some of the state’s oysters out of harm’s way. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the state made the move after the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway earlier this week.
The spillway’s opening will send fresh water into the Mississippi Sound. When that happened in 2011, it caused such damage to Mississippi oysters, the state was able to receive federal disaster assistance. It’s now using that money for this emergency work program.
“The spillway will bring freshwater into the western [Mississippi Sound and keep those oysters in freshwater for some extended time, and those oysters will die. So we want to try catch those oysters and move them to an area where they can continue to live and be harvested in a future season," says Jamie Miller, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
More than 100 fishermen attended the DMR’s first meeting about the emergency oyster recovery program Wednesday morning. Those who were eligible could begin the process of signing up to participate.
“Where we could take those who would be eligible and willing to work as a contractor to MDMR through that process and then into the state accounting and contract system," he says.
Because the state is trying to move these oysters quickly, before the freshwater gets here, Miller told the fishermen they were still working on some key issues, including whether the boats would need commercial liability insurance and how much the state would pay.
Third-generation fisherman Jimmy Rowell of Pass Christian says the answers to those questions could make all the difference.
“I think there’s a lot of confusion here so far," he says. "There’s none of us that are going to be able to afford that insurance. That’s ridiculous to begin with. If it gets down to having to pay $3,000 a man to insure that boat, that’s $9,000 right there – that’s more than the money you’re going to make.”
The DMR’s early estimate is that there are 10,000 to 15,000 sacks of oysters to be moved.