DMR busy restoring oyster reefs in Mississippi Sound

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

MISSISSIPPI SOUND, MS (WLOX) - The Department of Marine Resources continues to restore oyster reefs in the Mississippi Sound.

Hurricane Katrina destroyed more than 90 percent of the oyster producing areas. Reef restoration work since the storm is already producing significant results.

Thirteen miles south-southwest of Pass Christian Harbor, workers use high pressure hoses to scatter piles of oyster shells into the water.

It's the ultimate in recycling. Shells that come from oyster processors, will become the nursery for new oysters to grow underwater.

"The oyster shells, it's used as what we call 'cultch material.' It's a clean, hard surface onto which the oyster larvae can attach to.  We call it to get a 'spat' set on the oyster.  It will take those oysters about 18 to 24 months to get up to our three inch legal sized oyster," said the DMR's Scott Gordon, who oversees the oyster program.

Giant piles of shell are blasted from the barge deck.

The reef restoration work is paid for with federal Katrina relief money.  And the reefs re-planted since the hurricane are already producing a return for oyster fishermen.

"Had over 385,000 sacks of oysters harvested this year. And that's what I consider to be an above average season. And it looks like next year will be an ever better season," says Godon.

As workers aboard the barge spray the shell piles into the sound, a clean-up boat maneuvers nearby, removing any unwanted debris that might be mixed in with the piles of oyster shell.

Gordon says the restoration work is essential.

"Oh, they're critical, critical to this.  Trying to have the acreage there so we can rotate areas on opening. This is one of the most important management tools we can do," he explained.

The restoration project on the St. Joe's reef is 75 acres, adding to a very productive reef expansion this year.

"So far this spring, 1066 acres. So, that is pretty significant," Gordon said.

Along with the oyster shell planting at St. Joseph's reef, the DMR has also done restoration work at the Pass Christian tonging and dredging reefs.

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