STONE COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - It's an aquaculture program that will benefit research, academics and the so-called "blue economy." The state is using $ 7.7 million of BP money to purchase a fish hatchery in Stone County.
The Aqua Green facility will soon be operated by USM as an oyster hatchery. The commercial hatchery had focused primarily on fin fish, like tilapia. But when the governor's oyster council began looking at ways to boost the ailing oyster industry, a critical component was operating an oyster hatchery to provide larvae.
"This is what we do, and so as oysters became sort of a focus for the state, it only made sense that they come to us, because we're the people who do that," said Dr. Gordon Cannon, USM vice president for research.
"All they do is swim and look for food and try to get bigger," said Max Westendorf, as he viewed oyster larvae through the microscope.
Producing tiny oyster larvae will be the main mission of the hatchery. The goal is to produce 10 billion oyster larvae a year for the state.
"When they get to the biggest size we raise, they look like flecks of pepper swimming around in the water. It's these little black spots," said Westendorf, who serves as project manager.
The primary purpose of the hatchery will be to provide "seed oysters" to help boost the ailing oyster industry in Mississippi.
"We've gone from 400,000 sacks pre Katrina, a year, to less than 27,000 last year. So, there's just not much of a resource left," said Dr. Read Hendon, the associate director of the Gulf Coast Research Lab.
The hope is that this facility could help boost those numbers, dramatically in the future.
"We're not into making oysters to sell. We're into helping people who want to make oysters, increase the economic development potential. That's what we do," said Dr. Cannon.
The director of USM's School of Ocean Science and technology says using BP money to purchase this hatchery is a wise use of the money.
"We're trying to not just restore what was damaged during the oil spill, but decades of impacts that have resulted in the loss of oyster production. So this is the right way. This is good use of the money," said Dr. Monte Graham.