Alabama oysters enhance Mississippi reef

By Steve Phillips - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Oyster experiments done at a lab on Dauphin Island, Alabama will help improve fishing off the Ocean Springs harbor pier.

The Auburn University Shellfish Lab donated some 23,000 hatchery-grown oysters to the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources. That gift will enhance a near shore fishing habitat.

"We'll go ahead and unload them," said Bradley Randall, as the oysters arrived at Point Cadet Marina.

The live oysters are packed in the back of a pick up truck.

"These oysters are raised in the hatchery at the Auburn University Shellfish Lab. We then move them to these cages you see here and then move them out to the bay," said Scott Rikard, with the Auburn University Shellfish Lab.

Plastic mesh cages are the temporary homes for the oysters. They're loaded aboard the DMR boat Reef Keeper. The oyster planting trip is the new vessel's maiden voyage.

The Alabama oysters were grown this year at the lab on Dauphin Island.

"These are probably about a year old, while these are probably about three or four months old," said Rikard, as he displayed a handful of different sized oysters.

A quick trip across the bay to Ocean Springs brings the oysters to their new underwater home. As curious fishermen watch from the pier, crew members free the oysters from their mesh cages scattering the shells across the water.

"We have several benefits. First of all, it creates habitat. Eventually these oysters will spawn and grow more oysters. It creates a nice consolidated reef that will help clean out the bay, purify the water and essentially attract invertebrates that can be used for great fishing habitat," said Randall with the Department of Marine Resources.

The Alabama oysters should multiply quickly in Mississippi waters.

"If a large percentage of these survive and go to spawn next year, one oyster can spawn several million eggs," says Rikard.

The enhanced reef will also attract fish, giving recreational fishermen a few more bites from the pier.