DMR: Possible oyster aquaculture sites include areas near Deer, Cat Islands

DMR: Possible oyster aquaculture sites include areas near Deer, Cat Islands

SOUTH MISSISSIPPI (WLOX) - The Department of Marine Resources is pursuing several oyster aquaculture projects, and it could have a dramatic impact on the future of the oyster industry in Mississippi.

The plan involves more than just a few small oyster farms. Images at the Seafood Industry Museum in Biloxi highlight the historic significance of the oyster industry.

"From harvesting the oysters, to canning the oysters, a lot of the canning houses, a lot of the processing happened on the point in Biloxi. And so, that's a rich history and we've got a fishing community that still loves to fish for shrimp and oysters....we want to build on that," said Jamie Miller, executive director for DMR.

Small oyster farms, like the ones along the Alabama coast, are a part of the oyster aquaculture plans for Mississippi. But, a more significant project involves building an oyster hatchery.

"We'd hatch oyster larvae, then we're looking at remote set facilities. Now, these facilities would need to be on the water. We'd be drawing water from the Mississippi Sound. In tanks, we'd have shells or some type of substrate in those tanks and then allow that larvae to set," Miller explained.

Oyster farming sites under consideration include an area south of Deer Island and a site at Cat Island. Director Miller says not only can small oyster farms co-exist with the coast tourism industry, they could enhance it.

"When we went and looked at other oyster farms, they were drawing tourists. They were actually a part of eco-tourist trips. So, I think the same can happen here. There's a lot of apprehension, there's a lot of concern, because we're not doing it currently. I think in three to five years, when we get a few farms started, I think our coastal community is going to embrace it," said the director.

Miller says one of the biggest challenges is communication; helping the public understand the vision and benefits of oyster aquaculture.

"Anytime you're trying to do something new, obviously there's questions. We're trying to work through those questions with honest conversation. I think it's been a healthy conversation, and we've got a lot of support, honestly," said Miller.

DMR will be hosting a training program for potential oyster farmers in 2017.

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