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DMR asking for disaster declaration for oyster industry

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — The state has asked the U.S. Department of Commerce to issue a fisheries disaster declaration for Mississippi’s oyster industry.

The Mississippi Press reports William Walker, executive director of the state Department of Marine Resources, said he hopes to hear something in a week.

Walker’s comments came during this week’s meeting of the Commission on Marine Resources, which was taking comments from oyster fishermen.

Officials say Mississippi’s oyster reefs, located mostly in the state’s western waters, were devastated by freshwater pumped through the Bonnet Carre Spillway to relieve flooding in the Mississippi River.

Officials say oyster mortality rates on the reefs are estimated from 85 to 100 percent.

The state’s 12,000 acres of oyster reefs generated commercial landings valued at $4.27 million in 2010.

The commission voted to allow Walker to decide on an oyster season in waters between the railroad bridge and U.S. 90 bridge at Bay St. Louis that survived the release of freshwater.

“We have petitioned the secretary of commerce to declare a federal fisheries disaster for oysters involved in the freshwater flood through the Bonnet Carre. That is being considered. I’m hopeful in a week perhaps that a decision will be made at NOAA’s southeast regional office,” Walker said.

He said the disaster declaration would open the way for federal assistance.

Walker said one project being considered is to pay fishermen to move oysters from reefs unaffected by the freshwater to repopulate those that were affected.

Steve Bosarge, a commission member and commercial shrimper, said beginning mid-July there “very few shrimp” from about the Alabama-Florida state line to mid-Louisiana.

“We’ve had so many environmental abnormalities — Mississippi River, BP oil spill — who knows?” he said. “There is something happening in that there are conditions now, especially in the states of Mississippi and Alabama in the inshore waters, that we’ve never seen before.”

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