Department Of Marine Resources Enhances Oyster Reef

Oyster season opens Monday in Mississippi waters.

And while many fishermen are getting set for the upcoming season, the Department of Marine Resources is making plans for future harvests.

The DMR is overseeing an 85 thousand dollar enhancement project on Pass Christian Reef.

High pressure hoses blow piles of old oyster shells into the Mississippi Sound, some two miles offshore from Pass Christian. It's an example of marine resources recycling. The old shells, along with crushed concrete, will enhance an already productive oyster reef.

Dale Diaz is a biologist with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

"We're planting here in an area where the oysters are too thin. And we're trying to put some additional cultch material out there to build the reef up where it's commercially viable, where it's thick enough for the commercial oyster fishermen to go out there and make a day's work."

The fishermen and oyster dealers make such reef enhancement projects possible. Two years ago the state began charging a shellfish retention fee of 15 cents for each sack of oysters.

"When the fishermen buy their tags, that money is used to buy these shells. So the fishermen are getting something back for their money," said Oliver Sahuque, a commissioner for the Department of Marine Resources.

If the recent trend continues, oyster fishermen can expect another near record harvest when the new season opens on Monday. Statistics from the past ten years show the three best seasons happened in the last four years.

Experts give Mother Nature the most credit for successful seasons. But they're also convinced that sound management practices, like the reef planting, can ensure a successful harvest for future generations of oyster fishermen.

"You can't keep taking and taking. You have to put back. And that's what we're doing out here today," said Sahuque.