Mississippi fishermen harvested 40,000 sacks of oysters this week through an emergency work program. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the idea was to move the oysters out of the way of the fresh water expected to pour into the Mississippi Sound due to the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway.
Sacks of oysters are dumped on a barge in Hancock County’s Bayou Caddy. They'll be moved from here to the east, where they're less likely to be harmed by the freshwater that can be deadly to oysters.
Sixty-one boats participated on the first day of the program, which led to a bottleneck during unloading. Also, two boats sunk that day, and one fisherman was injured. Some boats didn’t get done unloading until close to midnight.
Department of Marine Resources executive director Jamie Miller said the agency was changing things to try to make the process smoother.
“For the most part we accomplished what we wanted to," he says. "We moved about 7,000 sacks of oysters [the first day]. The only challenge we had was how quickly we could unload those boats. So we’re making some adjustments today to try to quicken that, to make sure that there’s more order in how we do it, and to make sure everyone understands why we’re doing what we’re doing."
The program is also intended to create jobs for fishermen who haven’t had much work lately. The oyster season has been short this year because of rain and a harmful algal bloom called a red tide. Darlene Kimball is with Kimball’s Seafood.
"Right now it’s very much needed," she says. "We’re not afraid to work, we’ll get out and work, and we need to work - because my dock at the Pass Christian harbor, I’d normally be out every day unloading oysters but because of Mother Nature, I can’t."
But some fishermen who qualify for the program, which uses federal disaster recovery money from the 2011 spillway opening, say they’ve been left out. In the case of Anthony Pizzi, an unlucky cutlass bearing recently went out on his boat.
"I don't know why they couldn't have done something a little bit sooner and used the money, instead of putting an emergency relay and not giving people enough time to get prepared to do something like this," he says.
Marine officials said late Wednesday they were ending the program because of expected poor weather for the rest of the week and because all the live oysters appear to have been harvested from the reef.