Fishermen Look Back on Oyster Program

When the Army Corps of Engineers decided to open the Bonnet Carre Spillway, Coast DMR officials knew they had to race against the clock to remove oysters from its path to save our reefs.
To do that, they enlisted the help of fishermen right here on the Coast. How did the emergency oyster recovery program go? News 25’s Bryan Kennedy caught up with fishermen and the DMR to get those answers.
Forty thousand sacks, that’s how many oysters Coast fishermen were able to get during last week’s emergency oyster recovery program. Coast fisherman James ‘Catfish’ Miller said, “It was kind of a plus program, in one way, to put money in fishermen’s pocket but it was also not a plus in some because a lot of people didn’t get in on the action to make them some money.”
For the ones who did make it out on the water, the oyster recovery program did provide much needed earnings. Fishermen landed $22 a sack, with the DMR shelling out overall about a million dollars in emergency funds.
Not all fishermen were compensated, including a number of those from the Vietnamese community. Thao Vu, of the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese-American Fisherman, represents the Vietnamese fishermen. Vu said, “You need to give adequate time to plan and prepare to have contingency plans, everything and to give time for the agency. Well, a number of boats that I knew didn’t have time to get their boats ready, so they didn’t work.”
DMR representatives tell News 25 from the time they found out about the Bonnet Carre Spillway, they only had 14 days at most to complete the project, giving them very little time to prepare. DMR Public Information Officer Melissa Scallan said, “There are a lot of logistics to set up as far as getting the fishermen in the system, letting them know about it, having the meetings and letting them know how the program worked and then being able to, we had contracts we had to put in place. All of that takes time.”
While boats of fishermen remained docked, DMR wants to make sure fishermen know they are keeping them in mind. Whether it is shrimp, oyster or crabs, it’s their job to preserve this resource and in the future, they hope to do that with the help of fishermen. “When we found out about the opening of the Bonnet Carre we had to switch gears a little bit and do an emergency plan. Now, we’re going to work on something to see if we can’t put them to work again,” said Scallan.
Until then, fishermen say they’ll have to depend on savings, savings they believe won’t last much longer.
Fishermen tell News 25 one way the DMR and state could help while also saving the reefs is using BP oil spill money to take oysters from different areas along the Coast and move them east.

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