State wraps up work on improving oyster reefs

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Published: September 20,2011

Tags: environment, fishing, oysters, reefs

GULF OF MEXICO — Oyster fishermen in Mississippi will be facing a tough season this year.

Scott Gordon, who oversees the oyster industry for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, said the agency is wrapping-up the most recent cultch planting on the oyster reefs south of Pass Christian. The process helps revive and restore the reefs by spreading limestone or crushed oyster shells in the water.

Gordon said the latest planting project comes at a critical time.

“Typically, we try to do our cultch plant activity in the spring, and then later in the late summer, early fall. And we try to time it like that to coincide with our peak ‘spat’ set where the oyster larvae happen to be in the water,” said Gordon.

Water cannons blast the limestone off the barges, spreading it across the reef area.

“It’s over 34,000 cubic yards of limestone we’ve deployed. And we have also deployed 30,000 cubic yards of oyster shell.”

Mississippi’s oyster industry has been hit with a variety of disasters in recent years, both natural and manmade.

Just as the industry was beginning to show some following Hurricane Katrina, along came the BP oil spill. That was followed by this summer’s severe drought and then finally the impact of freshwater intrusion from the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening in Louisiana to help ease flooding along the Mississippi River.

“From our sampling, we estimated to have in excess of 85 percent morality on all of our western reefs,” Gordon said. “So that’s where I’m hoping this cultch plant is going to help out and give us a kick start so we can get these reefs recovered.”

It will take up to two years for baby oysters to reach legal market size once they settle on the newly planted reef material.

Oyster season typically runs from October until April.

Gordon said this year’s oyster season will likely be an abbreviated one.

“I think I can be fairly certain to say we won’t open the season to dredging,” he said.

Gordon said he is unsure if there will be increased restrictions on the amount of sacks oyster fishermen will be allowed to collect.

Last year, there was a 10-sack daily limit and the season opened to tongers only. The limit would be about 30 sacks in a good year, Gordon said.

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