The Tip of the Tong

By Paul Molyneaux.

Alabama oyster harvesters are glad to see their resource rebounding, even for a short season.           

Robbie Pollock married into the oyster business 43 years ago. “My wife’s daddy, Doody Peters, was the king of the oyster business back then,” says Pollock. “Back then, you couldn’t get into the business if you didn’t have a name that was known.”

As teenagers, Pollock and his wife Holley ventured as far as Louisiana to tong and dredge for oysters. “I did all that,” says Pollock. “But the price of a non-resident license in Louisiana is over $1,000 now. I figured out that making $30 close to home is the same as making $100 in Louisiana.”

Pollock mostly tongs for oysters in Mississippi Sound. “Our house is right on the bayou. We can run four and a half miles down to where the oysters are. We work the waters inside the islands as far as Louisiana,” he says.

According to a spokesperson for the Alabama Marine Resources Division, the price of an oyster license in Alabama is $34 for tonging, and $34 for dredging. “We have a reciprocal agreement with the Gulf States, so we charge whatever they charge,” says the Marine Resources spokesperson. “Mississippi charges $120 for a non-resident license, and another $114 for a dredge permit, so that’s what we charge them. Louisiana is high, $1275 for the non-resident license and $221 for the dredge.”

At 60 years old, Pollock has seen a lot of changes in the fishery. “It was year-round when we come up,” he says. “Now we get about three months. We have a meeting coming up on the 24th to set the season. I’m hoping they open it later in October. The water’s too warm. If they open it in early October, the oysters won’t be as good.”

When the season opens Pollock is joined by his wife, Holley. “She’ll come out with me and get the limit, then we’ll switch boats and get her limit. My daughter Melissa, we call her Missy, will come with me sometimes or go with her husband. My son has a skiff, and he goes. They have five kids between them and they’re all coming up in the business.”