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Committee approves bill aimed at boosting shrimpers, oystermen

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Legislation aimed at helping people who make their living harvesting shrimp and oysters from coastal waters have been approved by a Senate committee.

The Mississippi Press reports two bills were approved by the Senate Ports and Marine Resources Committee.

State Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, and the committee chairman, said one bill would reopen oyster beds that were inadvertently closed by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources about a year ago.

He said the other bill would allow the Commission on Marine Resources to open shrimp season during natural or manmade disasters even if shrimp haven’t reached the required minimum size.

“Legislators are always looking for a chance to increase shrimping, oystering and fishing,” said Wiggins.

Legislation that closed areas north of the CXS train bridge to shrimping and crabbing inadvertently included oyster beds, said Scott Gordon, MDMR’s shellfish bureau director.

“It was done by accident, and this (legislation) is designed to correct that error,” Gordon said.

The bill would allow people to tong for oysters in float-bottom boats, rather than dredge for them, which is more disruptive to ecosystems. The main oyster-harvesting area in south Mississippi is in the Bay of St. Louis, according to MDMR.

“That been the No. 1 oyster spot forever,” MDMR spokeswoman Shelly Becker said.

Becker said the area was shut down because of the oil spill in 2010 and again when the Bonnet Carre spillway near New Orleans was opened in 2011, releasing too much fresh water into the bay.

MDMR officials said while Bay St. Louis is a traditional hot spot for oystering, areas just off the Jackson County coast are not, due to high bacteria levels.

The other bill would allow shrimping even if the shrimp are not at the normally required 68-a-pound count minimum size.

However, shrimpers have expressed some doubt as to whether such small shrimp would be worth the trouble since buyers may not materialize.

The bills are Senate Bills 2300 and 2295.

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