MISSISSIPPI SOUND (WLOX) - Restoring the reefs, building a hatchery and mapping the water bottoms. Those are among the key recommendations from the governor's Oyster Council, which held its final meeting Tuesday morning.
"As we move forward, we have one aim in mind," said Chairman Dave Dennis, as he opened the council meeting. "And that's enhancing the oyster industry."
The Oyster Council chairman admits it is a formidable challenge to reach the council's stated goal of one million sacks of oysters by the year 2025, but with the right recommendations, he says it's achievable.
"The three meat and potatoes things are habitat restoration-creation, aqua culture program and the reef acreage in the sound," Dennis explained.
"One of the things we are immediately recommending is a detailed baseline mapping assessment of the Western Sound," said Tish Williams, who chairs the committee on oysters and the economy.
Restoring existing reefs is high on the list of recommendations. Longtime oysterman Harold Strong, of Bay St. Louis, says it should top the list.
"Every one of them needs to be replenished. They need to start with all the natural reefs that are actually going downhill and start rebuilding those natural reefs. Then, start building new reefs once they map it out and find good areas," said Strong.
Another idea is creating an oyster hatchery to supply larvae. The committee endorses an existing aqua culture facility called Aqua Green.
"And is recommended by this committee to be the primary hatchery. It's already built and could be easily retrofitted in a short period of time to actually be producing larvae," said Clay Wagner, who chairs the aqua culture and emerging technologies committee.
Environmental concerns are an integral part of the oyster equation. Especially the impact of freshwater projects upstream.
"Go inland a bit, and understand what the impacts are in the decisions that are made. Not necessarily on the Gulf Coast, but farther up. What kind of impact they have on our oyster population," said Alan Sudduth, who chairs the environmental committee.
Mississippi's oyster industry has been struggling in recent years. First, came the hurricane. Then, the oil spill. Then, an excess flow of freshwater into the sound due to the opening of a spillway in Louisiana.
The council will present its final report to Gov. Phil Bryant in early June.