by Calvin Ishee
On a hot sweltering September day, Mississippi Attorney General and Gubernatorial candidate Jim Hood toured a local oyster processing plant in Pass Christian. Hood was here to see first hand the human impact of the Bonnet Carre Spillway among Coast business.
The Jenkins family, owners and employees of Crystal Seas Oysters were eager to tell their personal story. Jennifer Jenkins bravely states, “we feel like we’ve been forgotten.”
Although the public can visually see damage from hurricanes, the BP oil spill and other disasters, it’s hard to truly show the public the massive negative impact of opening the Bonnet Carre spillway. The extremely large amount of rushing fresh water into the Mississippi Sound has almost ruined the seafood industry along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
The Pass Christian of old that used to be called “The Seafood Capital of the World”, suffers from a lack of local fish, shrimp and dead oyster beds. In fact, AG Hood boldly stated, “I believe this is worse than the BP oil spill.”
Sadly the Jenkins have lost 80 percent of it’s and have been forced to go as far west to Texas and as far as the East Coast to get fresh oysters. This has greatly increased the cost to purchase, transport, process and sell oysters.
Further impacts include the high prices being paid to restaurants and customers alike. Making the problem worse was a previously planned million dollar expansion project. The expansion was a full success, however it sits empty and idle due to a lack of oysters.
Another unfortunate negative human impact involves the 60-120 employees employed by Crystal Seas Oysters. Most of the employees have been brought to the United States on a special 10 month Visa cycle and have been with the company since 1999.
Employees normally work 40-50 hour work weeks and the company offers local housing to their employees. In spite of the massive loss in business, the Jenkins have kept the employees on the payroll.
So what can be done for the large number of Mississippians either already destroyed financially or on their way to losing their livelihood?
Jim Hood expressed that he would like to see an immediate environmental impact study be done in an effort to find alternatives to simply opening the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Furthermore more he’d like United States Congress to establish a fund, perhaps similar to the BP Fund, to help everyone negatively impacted by the Bonnet Carre Spillway.
The Challenge? Properly telling their stories to the public and government officials of their heartbreak, job loses, broken homes and a once vibrant seafood industry possibly on the road to extinction.
Hood stated “something must be done or our once great seafood industry will be gone.” The battle to save Mississippi’s may be unseen by many, but eventually it will be felt by all.