Don’t eat Mississippi’s Gulf seafood, agency warns


More bad news for Mississippi’s fishing industry came Tuesday, when the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources warned consumers away from any seafood caught off about half of the state’s Gulf of Mexico shoreline.

“MDMR … advises the public to not eat fish or any other seafood taken from any affected waters or in proximity to the beach closures,” MDMR Executive Director Joe Spraggins said in a statement. “The public’s safety is very important to our state and our agency will continue working closely with MDEQ (Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality) to monitor our waters and our seafood.”

The warning comes in the wake of a “freshwater intrusion” from the flooded Mississippi River through the Bonnet Carré Spillway, opened nearly two months ago to prevent New Orleans from flooding. The spillway released unprecedented amounts of water into the Gulf, decreasing the water’s salinity, which produced a toxic algal bloom. The algae caused MDEQ to close nine beaches closest to Louisiana until further notice. All of Hancock County’s beaches are closed and about half of those in Harrison County.

Both the influx of fresh water and the algal bloom has severely affected the state’s fishing industry.

“Brown shrimp in state monitoring trawls is down more than 82% over the past four weeks compared to the prior 5-year average,” the MDMR statement says, adding that “oyster mortality on Mississippi harvest reefs was higher than 90% for all reefs except for Pass Marianne. Oyster mortality on the reefs have continued to increase as the spillway remains open”

In 2016, the state’s seafood industry contributed some $218 million and about 4,600 jobs to Mississippi’s economy, according to the most recent “Fisheries Economics of the United States” report from the U.S. Department of Commerce. In Louisiana, those numbers are exponentially higher. All of that is threatened by the current condition of the states’ Gulf shores.

Gov. Phil Bryant is getting updates from all quarters. “Real time information is critical as we work to examine the adverse effects of Bonnet Carré,” he said. ”I appreciate the continued effort undertaken by the Department of Marine Resources and our partners in academia as we work to protect and preserve our marine resources.”

While salinity levels started to increase in mid-June, researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi found decreased again as winds pushed surface waters to the north trapping the freshwater flow from the spillway.

“Our scientists are using sophisticated approaches to understand and predict how wind and freshwater interact in the Mississippi Sound,” said Dr. Monty Graham, director of USM’s School of Ocean Science and Engineering. “While this is a complex system, it is not beyond our capacity to unravel ongoing and future impacts to our coastal waters and resources.”

The school has developed a website to host updates and photos to keep the public adequately informed on Bonnet Carré Spillway research projects. For questions, concerns or to report activity, USM urges the public to call the Bonnet Carré Spillway Hotline at 228.818.8099.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources is dedicated to enhancing, protecting and conserving marine interests of the state by managing all marine life, public trust wetlands, adjacent uplands and waterfront areas to provide for the optimal commercial, recreational, educational and economic uses of these resources consistent with environmental concerns and social changes, the statement says.

“MDMR continues to monitor Mississippi waters and the effects from the Bonnet Carré Spillway,” Spraggins said.