A new council that wants to find ways to improve Mississippi’s struggling oyster industry met for the first time this week. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports.
A worker at Half Shell Oyster House in Biloxi shucks an oyster. The president and founder of Half Shell, Bob Taylor, says finding enough oysters for the rapidly growing restaurant group isn’t easy.
"We've been struggling for the last 3 or 4 years to supply oysters for our restaurants," he says. "We are opening up at least 2 to 3 restaurants a year right now, and we are very challenged in finding enough product to continue our success."
Taylor was one of about 80 people at the first meeting of the Governor’s Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council. Mississippi is expected to harvest about 20,000 sacks of oysters this year – just 5 percent of where the industry was in 2004.
Jesse Shifalo has been an oysterer for 14 years but decided not to go out this season.
"Compared to what it was when I started and now, we don't even have oysters now. It's basically nothing," he says. "You can't even make expenses now, with the cost of fuel and everything."
The council will look at what’s worked in other areas to help restore oyster reefs, including new technologies, such as aquaculture. Coast businessman Dave Dennis is leading the council.
"This is an industry that has underperformed," Dennis says. "It has a chance, I think, to get back to where it needs to be. It needs a jump start, and I think that given that our heritage on the Gulf Coast is really built on seafood, I think we need to give it the best chance we can to really make it work."
The full council will meet again next month, and then will hold a series of public meetings. They plan to deliver a final report to the governor by June 2.