PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - A seafood dealer in Pass Christian is testing a new method for growing oysters. It involves raising oyster larvae in large tanks, then transplanting the young oysters onto reefs. The process is called remote setting and it's proven successful on both the East and West coasts. The big question now is: How will it work in the Mississippi Sound?
Cages filled with oyster shells sit in large tanks at the new Pass Christian Harbor. It could be just what's needed to jump start the oyster industry here.
"We've decided we need to rev up our oyster production a little bit. So we're going to start trying to do this," said Jennifer Jenkins of Crystal Seas Oysters.
The Jenkins family has invested in an aquaculture program that involves raising oyster larvae in large, onshore tanks. Auburn University's Dr. Bill Walton is a consultant on the project.
"Just taking what nature does and just moving it into these tanks. So instead of relying on nature to provide all those baby oysters, we've done that in a hatchery, with our same native oysters we have out in the Mississippi Sound," said Dr. Walton.
Millions of larvae added to the tanks will result in several hundred thousand baby oysters called "spat on shell."
Once the spat take hold, the oyster growing shells will be transported to the oyster beds, offshore.
"The gulf is very productive and we've always had oysters and so we always will. But talking to a lot of the oystermen, they say that what we've done just doesn't seem to be working as well as it has in the past, so maybe we need to try something new," said Dr. Walton.
The oyster industry has struggled in recent years because of poor production. The reefs felt the one-two punch of the oil spill, then freshwater intrusion from the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway. Businessman Joe Jenkins says it was time to try something different.
"We have many commitments to different restaurant chains and customers all over, nationwide and worldwide. And we had to fill our customers' needs," said Jenkins.
Pass Christian's mayor has high hopes for this oyster venture.
"Grow 'em somewhere. Just get 'em in the water where we can get 'em back out," said Mayor Chipper McDermott.
For now, the project is being tested on private lease oyster beds in the Mississippi Sound. If it proves successful and cost effective, it could possibly be expanded to include the state's public reefs.