Some fishing areas reopen in Gulf

The Mississippi Sound reopened Friday for recreational fishing after a nearly four-week closure.

Because of the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April, the state Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi had closed the Sound at end of June when oil began to wash ashore in Mississippi.

The DMR a week ago allowed catch-and-release fishing, and began sampling finfish, shrimp, crabs and oysters, which NOAA and the FDA examined.

Now anglers will be allowed to keep their catch.

”In a short comment, our fish population, from everything we can tell, are healthy and safe to eat,” DMR Director Bill Walker said. “Fishermen have been restrained too long, and we are tickled to death to get them back out fishing. Hopefully, we can salvage the remaining part of the summer fishing season.

”We have been sampling since this (oil spill) started and we never got a bad sample back. We got the official word from the FDA.”

The reopening includes all waters north of the barrier islands of Petit Bois, Horn, Ship and Cat, but not the waters south of the islands.

”Even though state waters include the three miles on the south side of the barrier islands, this area is still closed,” Walker said.

”That was a different process that started at a different time. That (reopening) will happen next week.”

Also, the waters reopened to all commercial and shrimp fishing.

However, commercial and recreational crab and oyster fishing will remain closed in the affected area.

Mike “Buck” Buchanan, a DMR fisheries biologist who helped with the sampling process, was pleased when the news became official.

”We (DMR) wanted this,” he said. “We’re happy for the fishermen and we’re happy that our fish are safe to eat.

”This is great news to us and I am sure it’s great news to the fishermen.”

The opening was welcome news on the eve of the 16th annual Carl Legett Memorial Fishing Tournament, which kicks off today at the Point Cadet Marina in Biloxi. Had the waters remained closed, anglers would have been limited to Mississippi’s bay and river systems and certain areas of Louisiana.

But those anglers opting to fish Louisiana waters would not have been able to transport catches by boat through Mississippi waters based on catch-and-release restrictions against anglers possessing fish.

”We were going through with the tournament no matter what,” tournament director Randall Broussard said. “But this is great news. It will help the fishermen get out and catch better fish.

”It will also help the fishermen who go to Louisiana; they will not have to trailer their boats now. This is great news and will help us out.”

Al Jones/The Associated Press