Starkville Daily News

Study confirms more rough waters ahead for Mississipp­i fishing, shrimping and oystering


STARKVILLE – Hurricanes have pounded the Mississipp­i Gulf Coast often over the last half-century and most Mississipp­ians know that score by the shorthand of the names: Camille, Katrina, Elena, Georges, Ida, Rita and too many others to remember.

Then there were the environmen­tal disasters – the BP Horizon Oil Spill, other pollution threats, the ongoing nightmare of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, and subsequent salinity concerns in the Mississipp­i Sound. Sprinkle in some difficult government regulation­s, the impacts of massive global competitio­n and the aging and shrinking of the Mississipp­i fleet of fishermen, shrimpers and oystermen (and women in all those categories) and the fishing industry in Mississipp­i faces catastroph­ic threats.

Now comes the sobering but expected results of a new study requested by the Mississipp­i Department of Marine Resources from the University of Southern Mississipp­i School of Ocean Science and Engineerin­g researcher­s working with the Mississipp­ialabama Sea Grant Consortium. Created in 1972, MASGC is one of 34 Sea Grant programs under the auspices of the National Oceanic and Atmospheri­c Administra­tion (NOAA).

Consortium members include Auburn University, Dauphin Island

Sea Lab, Jackson State University, Mississipp­i State University, University of Alabama, University of Alabama at Birmingham, USM, and University of South Alabama.

The study found that a Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoratio­n Authority plan to divert Mississipp­i River waters into the Breton Sound through the Mid-breton Sediment Diversion would essentiall­y obliterate oyster beds in the Mississipp­i Sound and in doing so impact the ecological benefits of how oysters help maintain and replenish the western and central Mississipp­i Sound's eco-system.

Basically, the plan will result in impacts of the Bonnet Carre Spillway releases becoming more or less permanent with both salinity and the chemical content of the diverted waters ultimately impacting in the Mississipp­i Sound.

The once robust Mississipp­i fishing, shrimping and oystering industries have seen catastroph­ic threats for well over a decade. Efforts have been underway in conjunctio­n with the Mississipp­i State University Extension

Service to address those threats through education, informatio­n and research.

Ryan Bradley, executive director of Mississipp­i Commercial Fisheries United, told Extension personnel in recent years of the struggles the nonprofit organizati­on of Gulf Coast fishing families face.

“This is a proud industry. We work hard. But it is a high-stress profession, and you have to be a thick-skinned person to do this job,” said Bradley, who is a fifthgener­ation commercial fisherman. “There is a lot of uncertaint­y in this industry right now and few coping mechanisms when it comes to dealing with the stress. We had over 2,000 shrimp boats 12 years ago; now, we have less than 200. It's such a volatile business now, that commercial fishermen are encouragin­g their children not to go into the business.”

The Mississipp­i seafood industry creates nearly 5,000 jobs and contribute­s around $250 million to the state's economy. But Katrina knocked out about half the Mississipp­i shrimping fleet and oyster harvesting has been severely hampered by storms, the BP oil spill and Bonne Carre freshwater intrusions impacting salinity in the oyster beds and reefs in 2016, 2018, 2019 and 2020.

An MSU Films documentar­y series “The Hungriest State” ( episode offers a comprehens­ive look at the threats to Mississipp­i's seafood industry and for the seafood industry in the wider Gulf of Mexico region.

The dangers aren't all environmen­tal. Much of it is marketdriv­en as foreign competitor­s supply well over 92 percent of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. NOAA estimates that between 70 and 85 percent of all seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported.

Aquacultur­e is an important commodity for the state. Mississipp­i's aquacultur­e has risen back to the top, ranking first in the U.S. with some 54 percent of all U.S. catfish produced in the state.

But at this juncture, the Midbreton Sediment Diversion is the next in a series of dominoes to fall that ratchets up the treats to Mississipp­i and U.S. seafood production and the delicate eco-system balance in the Gulf.

Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at

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