BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Investing $11 million in the future of Mississippi's oyster industry is included in two, long-term restoration projects recently announced by the governor.
The two projects announced by the Gov. Phil Bryant include the purchase of an oyster hatchery that will be operated by USM and an oyster relay project involving reefs in Pascagoula.
On Wednesday, dozens of oyster fishermen returned to the reefs of Biloxi Bay at sunrise. The reefs, which re-opened on Nov. 16, are producing 15 sack limits for fishermen encouraged by the idea of spending millions to enhance area reefs.
"I think anywhere they can make another reef is real good for the oyster fishermen," said Jessie Roberson, "It's tough, real tough. Especially when you get my age."
Oysterman John Livings says the relay project would be best served by employing local fishermen to help with replenishment.
"Who better to do it than someone who's on the water all the time," said Livings. "That's the most important thing when you put live oysters, not to put them in the soupy mud."
Livings is confident the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources would have no trouble recruiting enough fishermen to assist with any relay project.
"Every fisherman with a boat would be more than happy to get on to do that," Livings said.
Even so, it's not just fishermen who are concerned with the long term future of the oyster industry.
"We have a lot of boats to consider. We have plant employees, which is 100 or so people there, and a lot of businesses around the area depend upon oysters," said longtime Pass Christian seafood dealer, Joe Jenkins.
After reopening at sunrise Wednesday, fishermen returned from the Biloxi Bay reefs to find out it would be shut down again because of a bad water sample.
"They're closing it down this evening, said there was a bad water sample. But hey, I don't see nothing wrong with the oysters," said Roberson.
Fishermen are hopeful the same can be said for the long term future of their industry.
With the reefs in Biloxi Bay closed, oyster fishermen will return to the waters of the western sound near Pass Christian on Thursday, when a special five-day season opens for both dredging and tonging oysters in that area.