Harrison County

Can Pass oyster reefs produce 1 million sacks per year? DMR has a plan.

Grown oysters are loaded onto a Conservationist, a retrofitted oyster lugger, at the Gulfport Port Thursday. The DMR announced its oyster aquaculture plans.
Grown oysters are loaded onto a Conservationist, a retrofitted oyster lugger, at the Gulfport Port Thursday. The DMR announced its oyster aquaculture plans. jkjones@sunherald.com

The Department of Marine Resources discussed the status of its oyster aquaculture site on Thursday.

Through a partnership with the Port of Gulfport, Southern Miss and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, DMR is expediting the natural process of oysters.

“I’m proud of what the agency has accomplished,” DMR Executive Director Jamie Miller said. “We needed good partners to make this work.”

Gov. Phil Bryant formed the Governor’s Oyster Council on Restoration and Resiliency in February 2015.

Dr. Kelly Lucas, director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab, said progress was made since it began in slow steps last year.

Here’s how the oyster aquaculture process works:

Clean oyster shells are stored into cages and set in tanks. Southern Miss provides the oyster spat. An oyster spat starts with a free-swimming larval stage that eventually attaches to a hard substrate. They incubate two weeks, are loaded onto a boat and taken onto oyster reefs in Pass Christian. It takes 18 months for the oysters to fully grow. They help restore the reef and repopulate the oyster industry.

The DMR’s goal for off-bottom oyster aquaculture is to produce 1 million sacks a year by 2025.

USM has teamed up with aquaculture company Aqua Green LLC to start a facility to find a better way to raise oysters for commercial production. When USM gets BP Restore Act money, they will buy the facility in Parkinson and continue doing research

James Jones: 228-896-2320, @_jkjones

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