Guy Harvey Magazine

WIN 2017

Guy Harvey Magazine is focused on fishing, boating, scuba diving, and marine conservation. Portfolios from the world's best fishing photographers, articles on gear, travel, tournaments, apparel, lifestyle, seafood recipes, sustainable fisheries.

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 46 of 83

GHM: Through a recent restoration initiative, you've taken on oysters as a kind of poster child of Mississippi seafood. Why oysters? JM: Fishermen, scientists, environmentalists and consumers all love oysters. Oyster production in Mississippi fell from 490,000 sacks in 2004 to just 40,000 in 2015 due to a series of natural and manmade disasters. Oysters transect so many environmental and economic issues in Mississippi that it just seemed right to make oysters a priority. I have learned over the last three years how difficult and elusive oyster management can be. The pure politics and traditions associated with the oyster industry in Mississippi are deep and wide. We have traveled from Maryland's eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay to Hoodsport in Washington State to better understand how other regions of the country are dealing with declining oyster populations. We have learned a lot and are putting that knowledge to work in Mississippi. Our governor has set a goal of one million sacks harvested annually by 2025, and we intend to reach it. GHM: Wow! A million sacks is quite ambitious. How do you get there? JM: The main tenants of our plan are to enhance the public resource, incentivize private production, expand into new harvest areas and invest in an oyster hatchery. The plan is comprehensive and doable. We recognized early on this would require legislative and regulatory changes to current laws and rules. We are focused on removing barriers and creating incentives for private production for on- and off-bottom oyster leases. We have also increased our water sampling program to open new areas for oyster harvest. We successfully opened Biloxi Bay for the first time in 50 years. We increased our reef sampling program and developed annual stock estimates to help us make informed recommendations about sustainable harvest. Finally, we also recognized the need for an oyster hatchery. A hatchery will allow us to boost recruitment by controlling and targeting a spat set in areas with depleted resources. A hatchery can also provide seed oysters for oyster farming. No single action will get us there, but combined, I believe one million sacks is achievable. GHM: Mississippi's casinos are a popular destination along the coast. Do they contribute to fishery management or enhancement, either through direct funds or indirect tourism? JM: Our gaming industry plays a significant role in connecting tourists to charter-for-hire fishing trips. They also support large fishing tournaments like the Billfish Classic held each year at the Golden Nugget. They have been good partners and proven to be good ambassadors for conservation in the Gulf. GHM: What's your take on balancing recreational and commercial fishing interests? JM: There are strong opinions about recreational versus commercial fishing and 'balance' can be a relative term, depending on whom you ask. I always encourage people to start with the facts before jumping to conclusions. In Mississippi, we have commercial fisheries for shrimp, blue crab, oysters, spotted sea trout, red drum, flounder and menhaden. Both recreational and commercial fisheries have a huge economic impact and both play a significant role culturally in South Mississippi. Biloxi was once known as the seafood capital of the world, due in large part to the seafood processing facilities located here. I strongly believe that we do a good job of managing the resource for both recreational and commercial interests. GHM: Are the local shrimpers able to compete effectively against foreign competition? JM: At the end of the day it's about price, and local shrimpers are at the bottom of the supply chain. Foreign shrimp have flooded the U.S. markets to keep up with demand, but it's an inferior product to wild-caught Gulf shrimp. The industry has undergone major consolidation over the last three decades, with fewer vessels working and fewer dealer/processors to buy their catch. In 2000, Mississippi had over 1,000 shrimpers fishing the Mississippi Sound on opening day. Now, we are lucky to have 300. We continue to work with the industry and Congress to keep the playing field level for America's shrimpers and processors. GHM: What are the greatest threats to Mississippi's fishery? JM: Hurricanes, oil spills and bad policy. We can't control the first two, but we can influence fishery management policies at the state and federal levels. I have been surprised by how many people who enjoy a fishing trip or seafood platter know so little about how the recreational and commercial fisheries are managed. It's our responsibility as managers to keep stakeholders and the public informed about the health of our fisheries. GHM: What do you see as your agency's biggest successes, and what are you most proud of as director? JM: Engagement, communication and transparency. We listen to our stakeholders and deliver good science- based options for management. We spend a lot of time communicating through traditional and social media outlets. As a result, we hosted a Red Snapper Summit in 2014, worked closely with our governor in 2015 to develop an Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council and recently established a 20% spawning potential ratio (SPR) for spotted sea trout. These are just a few examples of our agency working with stakeholders to tackle important issues.

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of Guy Harvey Magazine - WIN 2017