DMR Works To Replenish Storm Damaged Oysters

Captain Kenny Melvin kept a steady hand at the helm, despite the rough seas and persistent winds.

"We're getting gusts now that's probably 25," he shouted, above the roar of the seas and the diesel engines.

Despite the blustery weather, we found offshore crews hard at work helping restore Pass Marianne reef.

High pressure hoses help scatter tons of chipped limestone into the water. That "cultch" material will settle on the bottom and encourage new oyster growth.

"What we're doing is putting out some clean material for oyster larvae to attach to. If they don't have the nice clean, hard surface to attach to, the oyster larvae would die," said Department of Marine Resources shellfish manager, Scott Gordon.

Restoring the reefs to pre-hurricane status is an enormous, expensive challenge. Katrina decimated Mississippi oyster reefs.

"About any way you could kill an oyster, that's what happened. They were smothered by debris. We had them covered with mud. We had reefs that were scoured away," Gordon explained.

This latest "cultch" planting is a $3 million project, paid for with federal hurricane relief dollars. While one team spreads the piles of chipped limestone with water pressure, a nearby barge crew prepared another load.

"This is our third cultch plant since Katrina. We had one in the spring of '06, the fall of '06 and now this one. And this is by far our largest cultch plant," said Gordon.

Along with continuing its reef replenishment project, the DMR will also be promoting its oyster stewardship program. That's a plan that gets fishermen actively involved in managing and preserving the resource.

"This is their resource. And how they manage it today will result in what they're able to harvest tomorrow," says Gordon.

Planting projects like this one will help ensure those future harvests.