Oyster Reefs Being Enhanced By DMR

As you looked west from the Long Beach harbor, you noticed a barge and a tugboat floating in the water. On board the barge were thousands of empty oyster shells -- the past and the future of Mississippi's oyster industry.

Dale Diaz is a DMR marine biologist. He said his agency was "trying to expand what's already here and enhance this area."

To do that, three men in yellow rain gear had to fire high pressure water toward piles of empty oyster shells that once grew on South Mississippi reefs. Shay Matthews was the lead contractor on the project. "We're just trying to basically wash them off, get a good ridge going down the middle and then just start hitting the sides," he said.

Matthews' crew shot nearly 1,000 cubic yards of oyster debris back into the Mississippi Sound.

According to Diaz, "What we're doing right now is putting all these fresh oyster shells on the bottom for the oysters to spawn. They'll have some fresh material to sit on."

DMR shellfish bureau director Scott Gordon explained how the empty shells can replenish oyster sacks. "The larvae look for a clean place on the shell," he said. "And if we have a good set, you'll have oysters all within here. We'll make a nice cluster."

The DMR should know in about a month whether oysters latch onto the shells. It will be three years before fishermen can tong the reef off the coast of Long Beach.

The Coastal Impact Assistance Program is paying for the oyster shell program. Both the Long Beach reef and Telegraph reef south of Pass Christian are being restored.