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Oyster Aquaculture Project Hopes To Jumpstart Production
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MPB / Audio

Mississippi’s oyster harvest has fallen 84 percent in the past decade. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, a Pass Christian oyster processor is trying to reverse that trend.

Oyster shells are dropped on a boat that will take them into the Mississippi Sound. The shells have baby oysters growing on them, part of an aquaculture project by Crystal Seas Seafood. The oyster processor will place them on reefs they lease and hope to harvest them in 18 months.

"So at the end, you're still relying on nature, you're still working with nature, you have to find a good spot to put those oysters. But you're taking some of the question marks out," says Auburn University scientist Bill Walton, who's providing technical advice on the project.

Mississippi's oyster industry harvested 78,019 sacks of oysters last season. In 2004, nearly 500,000 sacks were harvested. The oyster industry has been hit hard by the combined effects of hurricanes and freshwater intrusion from the opening of the Bonnet Carre spillway in 2011.

"You can never replace a good year that Mother Nature provides, but what you could do is possibly help yourself through some of those slimmer years," Walton says.

University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Research Lab professor Jeff Lotz says aquaculture can help industry development and even the Mississippi Sound generally.

"Oysters generally do a really good job in filtering the water and clearing up the water," Lotz says. "They do an awful lot of good things for the environment.

Mississippi's oyster industry, once a $7 million dollar business, brought in less than $2 million dollars in 2012.

Mississippi Oyster Harvest, Number of Sacks, By State Fiscal Year (July 1-June 30)

2000: 410,903

2001: 380,231

2002: 388,091

2003: 391,635

2004: 491,050

2005: 213,035

2006: 0

2007: 325

2008: 116,749

2009: 385,949

2010: 305,722

2011: 43,722

2012: 65 (this was due to the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway)

2013: 58,267

2014: 78,019

Data source: Mississippi Department of Marine Resources