Oysters going back to St. Joe reef

New oysters will soon be coming to St. Joe reef after about 40,000 sacks were moved to reefs in Pass Christian and Biloxi Bay because of the Bonnet Carre Spillway opening.

St. Joe reef, north of the barrier islands and at the western edge of the Coast, is close to where large amounts of fresh water from the Mississippi River was released.

The state Department of Marine Resources has applied for a cultivation permit under the Coastal Wetlands Protection Act.

The permit is the first step in a long-term restoration project that will be implemented over 10 years. The permit request says about 3,500 acres of almost 24,000 acres of reefs will be cultivated.

"The permit will allow us to do this on St. Joe reef," said Melissa Scallan, DMR public affairs director.

Scallan said the restoration will involve cultch planting.

"Cultch planting is a process where limestone or fresh concrete or oyster shells is applied to the reef and then the spat attaches itself to the clutch on the reef," she said. "Oyster growth goes from spat to seed to sack and they must be at least 3 inches long before they can be harvested or sacked. Spat basically means 'baby oyster.'"

She said the materials for the cultch planting will be sent out for bids. The cost of the project will be determined by the bid.

No immediate start date has been set for the project, Scallan said, but it is expected to begin soon.

"This is the best time to start oyster cultivation," she said. "Once it is applied, and because of the conditions of the Gulf, it will take between 18-24 months before the oysters will be mature enough for harvesting."