Oyster processing plant re-opens in the Pass

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) – The rhythmic pounding of oyster shells is once again echoing along the production line.

"This noise behind me is music to my ears," said Margaret Jean Kalif of Pass Christian. "I've been waiting for their oysters. My family's been waiting for their oysters."

Kalif showed up Wednesday to buy the first quart of freshly-shucked oysters, since Crystal Seas Seafood re-opened. She's been a loyal customer since the business opened in 1996.

"I don't buy them any place else. I don't eat them any place if I don't get them from here," said Kalif.

Crystal Seas shut down on June 23, blaming it on limited supplies, not enough boats working, and customers leery about the safety of oysters. On Tuesday, the company cranked-up the shucking and cleaning equipment, putting 50 employees back to work. The manager said more workers could be re-hired once business picks up.

"It feels good to be back at work again," said manager Jennifer Jenkins.

Jenkins said after Katrina, it took the business only two months to rebuild. But she said the Gulf oil disaster and the four months of being closed have been especially tough on the staff.

"We didn't know if customers were going to buy oysters, people are going to eat oysters, people were going to come back to work. So just a lot of unknown factors that were very stressful," she said.

Then this week, the company received two large loads, totaling 800 sacks of oysters, from a Texas dealer.

"I wouldn't say that we're getting enough, but we're getting a consistent supply right now and that should improve," said Jenkins.

Crystal Seas expects to get some supplies off the docks in Pass Christian when Mississippi's oyster season opens on Monday. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty, because the season is only open to tonging, and the company gets most of its supplies from dredge boats.

"We don't have a very good prediction of how many we'll be buying from the tongers or how many of the tongers will go," said Jenkins. "We plan on being here for the long haul. As long as there are oysters available, we will be here."

Crystal Seas re-opened just in time, because demand for oysters is high during Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The manager says the cost is still 25 percent higher than in years past.

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