BILOXI -- Oyster season could reopen in Mississippi soon, officials said Tuesday morning.
The red tide algae bloom has weakened sufficiently that the FDA can finally test local oysters, said Joe Jewell, Department of Marine Resources director of Marine Fisheries, at Tuesday's Commission for Marine Resources meeting.
"We have tested oyster meat and water samples and they are well below the FDA guidelines," Jewell said.
The final phase of the testing has begun. A mouse bioassay -- which uses laboratory mice to detect the level of toxins in shellfish -- is being prepared to send to a lab in Florida.
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Jewell said it could be 10 to 14 days before the results are released.
Oyster season was closed Dec. 11 because of the red tide outbreak, which also was responsible for 37 large fish kills along the Coast.
Oystermen were dealt another blow when the Bonnet Carre Spillway was opened, bringing the threat of large amounts of fresh water to oyster reefs.
On Monday, the DMR initiated a program to transplant oysters from St. Joe reef to reefs in Pass Christian and Biloxi Bay. The program was designed to both save the oysters from the Bonnet Carre water and to put oystermen back to work by having them move the oysters themselves.
Oystermen are loading St. Joe reef's oysters onto barges owned by J.E. Borries of Pascagoula, which then hauls the shellfish to the alternate reefs.
Jewell said about 150 fishermen qualified for the relocation program.
The program was paid for from funding received after the 2011 spillway opening, which caused great distress on state oysters.
"The Bonnet Carre is expected to close Jan. 28," Jewell said. "We don't think it's going to be as bad as it was in 2001, when we lost 85 percent of our oysters. This is a breath of good news in this sea of bad news."
CMR Chairman Richard Gollott asked Jewell if the oyster season could be reopened before the Bonnet Carre water enters the Sound.
"There's a lot of timing issues," Jewell said. "If the mouse bioassay comes back quickly and within the FDA guidelines, there is potential the season could open back up."
Future testing could be completed more quickly, as the DMR is in talks with officials from USM's Gulf Coast Research Laboratory to do the testing on the Coast.