By NICOLE DOW - [email protected]

PASS CHRISTIAN — Officials from the Mississippi Department of Marine
Resources took oyster fishermen out on the reefs off the Pass
Christian Harbor on Wednesday to give them a preview of what to expect
from the upcoming oyster season.

Catches resulting in an abundance of empty oyster shells led some
fishermen to doubt the viability of the season, which typically begins
in September or October.

“We’ve lost this season,” oyster dredger Loe Nguyen said.

Nguyen said he’s also a shrimper, but that shrimping season hasn’t
been good, either, since the oil spill.

He said he had a negative feeling about the upcoming oyster season
when DMR officials dredged for oysters and pulled up catches with
about 80 to 90 percent of the oysters dead.

“It’s bad news for the oyster fishermen,” Nguyen said.

Scott Gordon, director of the DMR shellfish bureau, said there have
been more oyster mortalities this year, but he doesn’t know whether it
can be attributed to the BP oil spill.

“We don’t have any evidence that oil has contributed to these
mortalities,” he said.

Still, the abundance of hollowed shells from Wednesday’s dredge
concerned him.

“I’m not as encouraged about this season as I’d like to be,” Gordon

Gordon said DMR has been collecting samples of seafood to test for
hydrocarbons, and results have all been below levels of concern.

The weather this summer may be a cause of the oyster deaths, he said.

“We’ve had an unseasonably hot summer,” Gordon said.

He said high temperatures lead to lower levels of dissolved oxygen in
the water, which could cause oysters and other marine animals to die.

Gordon said he would have expected to see oyster mortalities during a
summer like this, even without the oil spill. But some fishermen
suspect the oil is a cause for the amount of empty oyster shells
dredged up on the DMR trip.

Oyster dredger Minh Tran said it was the first time he’s seen a season
like this. He’s been in the oyster business for 10 years.

Tran joked he’d be heading to the WIN Job Center or filing for
unemployment. He said he has filed a claim with BP to make up for his
lost income.

“We all have,” he said of his fellow fishing community.

When asked if the money he has received has been enough, he simply
shook his head. Tran said he also completed five applications for the
Vessels of Opportunity program, but BP used only one of his boats, for
14 days.

Seafood wholesaler Darlene Kimball of Kimball’s Seafood said she has
filed a claim with BP twice and has yet to see any payment to make up
for her lost income. It’s become frustrating almost to the point of
giving up, she said.

“Of course, I can’t afford to give up,” Kimball said.

The business she runs has been passed down in her family for four

“After Katrina it was bad, but that was because of a hurricane,” she
said. Kimball said she’s also had trouble selling the few shrimp that
have come in this shrimping season, because consumers are leery of
Gulf seafood.

“This is very concerning for me because this is my livelihood,” she

Gordon said the public’s reluctance about Gulf seafood has been a
challenge for those who make their living on the water, but he has no
doubts of quality of safety of Mississippi seafood.

During Wednesday’s oyster dredge, Gordon pointed out evidence the
oysters had been feeding, and the presence of young oysters that could
reach legal size by next season.

He said the dredging DMR conducted Wednesday is only a small sample of
the thousands of acres of oyster reefs in Mississippi, so it’s hard to
write off the season for sure.

DMR will go out farther in the Sound today to take more samples from
the reefs.

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We must squeeze every penny due from that incompetent UK company.