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Oyster season set by commissioners

By LISA MONTI

For the second consecutive year, the Commission on Marine Resources put aside recommendations by the Department of Marine Resources’ scientific staff on when and where oyster harvesting should be.

At the commission’s October meeting, Kelly Lucas, DMR’s chief scientist, presented the staff’s findings based on months of surveys of the oyster reefs, including sampling done by divers. Lucas said the number of samplings this year was greatly expanded. “They got a lot of detail on these reefs,” she said.

Like last year, DMR considered not having a season at all because of the poor condition of the oyster resources.

Instead, the staff recommended what they considered a season that would  help sustain the oyster population. The season would open on Nov. 10 in all but three areas where oysters were found to be scarce. The daily limit would be 20 sacks for dredgers and 10 sacks for tongers. Reefs would be closed when 10 percent of market sized oysters – or 8,330 sacks – were harvested.

The recommendations were in line with the recent final report by the Governor’s Council on Oysters whose goal is to help resurrect the state’s oyster industry through sustainable practices and policies.

The commission voted instead to allow licensed Mississippi dredgers to harvest in portions of Pass Marianne Reef for a week before opening the full season on Nov. 10. The dredgers can keep market sized oysters but have to relay the smaller oysters and shells they hauled in to another location. Limits for the regular season will be the same as last year.

The motion by Richard Gollot, the commission chairman who represents Harrison County’s commercial processors, had one dissenting vote cast by Steve Bosarge, who said he sided with science.

“Well, last season the DMR staff recommended the season not open. The CMR voted against their recommendation,” Gollot said last week. “Our oyster fisherman sold almost $1.5 million worth of oysters.” That figure represents what the fishermen received, he said, and didn’t count the economic multiplier or benefits to the state and local economy.

“We did, however,  go along with one of their recommendations and the area that we didn’t open for harvest died at a very large loss,” Gollot said. “So, of course I feel the CMR is making the right decision. It’s being opened at the right time, before the holiday, when the demand is at its best. We went out on a boat and checked them last week. They look great and taste even better.”

Lucas said she wasn’t surprised by the commission’s decision, but said, “The surprise came by not providing a lot of reasoning why you would shy away from a sustainable management plan.”

Lucas said the agency will abide by the commission’s decision and will also look at other ways to increase and sustain Mississippi’s oysters. “There is more than one way to have a sustainable harvest. It’s finding the method they feel comfortable with,” she said.

Lucas said the commission’s decision to include relaying the small oysters dredged on Pass Marianne could be beneficial. “The point of this relaying effort is to move the spat and seeds to better conditions so they have a chance to grow. Closing the area is important because they’ve already had huge mortality by being harvested and redeployed. If you dredge on top of them again you’re just increasing their mortality.”

Well before the October meeting and vote, commissioners were briefed on the sampling through memos, a special called meeting and a boat trip for a first hand look at the reefs.

Asked if he thought his decision is in line with the Governor’s Oyster Council recommendations regarding sustainability of the resources, Gollot said, “Yes, I do. All of the Governor’s Council recommendations were made to get the most out of the oyster industry. The Governor, the CMR and the DMR all want the same thing, to grow the Mississippi oyster industry and get back to Mississippi’s historic landing.”

About Lisa Monti

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