Oyster Relay Project Helping Restore Reefs

Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.
Photo courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources.

BILOXI (WLOX) -- Not far from casino row, oyster fishermen are cashing in on an off season harvest. They're busy harvesting thousands of sacks of "live" oysters that will be moved to areas hardest hit by the hurricane.

"What we're doing is moving seed oysters. And that's oysters smaller than legal size that will be able to come up to legal size in about a year or so," said Scott Gordon, who directs the shellfish bureau for the Department of Marine Resources.

Live oysters harvested from Biloxi Bay and Davis Bayou, are unloaded on a barge. Hard working fishermen are paid $20 a sack. But instead of being eaten, these oysters will be transported then transplanted.

"The barges will deploy these oysters onto reefs to the west that were more affected by Hurricane Katrina," says Gordon.

Stubborn winds challenge the fishermen, but don't seem to bother the seagulls that feast on an oyster buffet.

"A lot of oysters put out here. There's a lot of oysters in this bay," said fisherman Tim Tillman.

Tillman knows he and his fellow fishermen are working to ensure their future. Oysters transplanted today will become the bounty of seasons to come.

"All these oysters will be cultivated and used in no time soon," said Tillman.

The oyster relay program is just one part of DMR's ongoing efforts to help commercial fisheries in Mississippi. The federal government has pledged $25 million over the next five years to help restore the storm battered industry.

Some 130 oyster boats have helped harvest more than 60 thousand sacks for transplanting on recovering reefs.

"Glad to be here, yes sir!" yelled one fishermen from the deck of his work boat, "It's a fine program right here."

It's one that provides fishermen a paycheck for recovery work, and more importantly the promise of a healthy harvest in future seasons.