A council charged with fixing Mississippi’s ailing oyster industry will deliver its report to the governor next month. MPB’s Evelina Burnett attended the council’s final meeting in Biloxi Tuesday.
At the meeting, the three committees that make up the Governor’s Oyster Council on Restoration and Resiliency presented their recommendations.
Hancock Chamber of Commerce director Tish Williams led a committee on oysters in the economy. She says, they learned a lot from Maryland, which has faced similar challenges.
"And the advice we received is, we must stay focused on the oyster, because when we do, it will be the rising tide that will lift all of the boats, that will help all of the fisheries improve their productivity," she says. "We can be successful at this as long as we all develop the plan, implement the plan, stick with the plan and work together."
The three committees' recommendations included mapping reef areas and encouraging private leases and aquaculture. Bay St. Louis oysterman Harold Strong says he liked many of the recommendations he heard – in particular, building new reefs and rebuilding existing ones.
"I thought a lot of it was really good," he says. "They had a lot of good ideas. I lot of things are going to have to come together to make it work, but it's really a good idea."
Mississippi's oyster industry has been buffeted by natural and man-made disasters over the past decade. This past season's oyster harvest of 26,000 sacks is just 5 percent of what was produced before Hurricane Katrina. Dave Dennis is chair of the oyster council, which was formed to find ways to turn those numbers around.
"The stated goal is to go from the 26,000 where we currently are, to a million sacks by 2025, and that's a very attainable and doable goal," Dennis says.
The recommendations will be used as the basis for a report to the governor, to be delivered in June.