Deer Island oyster farm hard hit by spillway freshwater intrusion

Updated: Jun. 12, 2019 at 2:19 PM CDT
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) -There’s little doubt the saltwater environment of the Mississippi Sound has been adversely affected by freshwater intrusion from the opening of the Bonnet Carré Spillway. However, the damage is greatest at the oyster aquaculture farm south of Deer Island. Freshwater and oysters don’t mix.

A visit to the farm shows the situation firsthand. Leaving the dock, the outlook is bleak for the farm.

“Today, we’re looking at the survival of the oysters at the Deer Island oyster aquaculture park," said Jason Rider, oyster expansion agent for the Department of Marine Resources. "We do expect some mortality. We hope to see some oysters that are still alive.”

Most are dead, and Rider is concerned.

“It is frustrating because we were seeing some growth with the program, and the oyster producers and farmers that were starting their leases were excited about selling their product to retailers and wholesalers. This is quite a large setback but we hope to rebound quickly," Rider said.

He added that potential rebound comes in the form of baby oysters.

“Farmers do have seed lined up, and we plan to start as soon as the salinity rises back in the area," Rider said.

One of those farmers is Kevin Gabbert, who just planted some seed.

“We put about 250,000 in the water, and we were able to move those over to Bayou La Batre with some help of an oyster farmer over there. Checked on those yesterday. The salinity is good over there, and they’re living," Gabbert said.

In the past couple of weeks, salinity levels in the Mississippi Sound have been down to almost nothing, and that’s very detrimental to fish and oysters. However, something has changed dramatically in just the past three days, according to Rider.

“The current salinity level at the oyster park is rising. That’s a good indicator that the tides are changing in the Mississippi Sound, and we hope that the spillway doesn’t affect us any more than it already has," he said.

Oyster farmers like Gabbert are looking for long-term relief.

“They’ve got to get better control over that. I don’t see why we’ve got to induce us all at one time. I think the gulf can handle a little bit of fresh water on a constant basis, maybe, but not all at one time. It’s too much.”

Another casualty of the spillway opening is the shrimp season. Usually at this time, the season has been open for a week or two, but brown shrimp are still small and scarce, and it’s not known when the season may open.

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