SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - They benefit the environment and help boost the economy. But in recent years, oyster production in the Mississippi Sound has taken a hit from manmade and commercial disasters. And that's why the DMR is looking closely at how best to replenish the reefs.
For years, Mississippi oystermen enjoyed a healthy harvest from productive reefs. But disasters and changing environmental conditions brought an end to that good fortune.
"We've always relied on Mother Nature, obviously, to grow the best oysters. But I think now we're into times when we've got to supplement that. And so we've got to look at some manmade induced ways of growing oysters," said DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller.
One such method was recently showcased by a Pass Christian seafood dealer.
"Remote setting" involves growing baby oysters on shore, then delivering those young oyster spat to the offshore reefs.
"I think what you're going to see is it's a great way to provide some resilience for our area, especially in times of natural or manmade disasters," said the DMR's Dr. Kelly Lucas.
The DMR's chief scientific officer said that method of seeding oysters has been used successfully on the east and west coasts and there's no reason to believe it couldn't also work in the Gulf to supplement the natural production of oysters.
"The other benefit you have is that you're typically only going to have maybe two, or possibly three natural spat sets in a given year. But if you're using aquaculture and hatcheries, then you can do that like once a month or even more," said Dr. Lucas.
"Everybody loves oysters, especially this time of year, and they've grown in demand. Unfortunately, the supply has not kept up. So we've got to come to some real solutions. We're working with the industry and the other scientists and other agencies to do that," said Miller.
The DMR will likely continue things like cultch planting and relaying of oysters to help replenish the reefs. But aquaculture will likely be an added element to that multi-faceted approach of trying to boost the oyster industry.
Director Miller said the DMR is working with other Gulf states to explore the possibility of using aquaculture and a hatchery to help replenish the oyster reefs.