Limited oyster harvest anticipated in Miss.

Published 5:39 pm Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mississippi’s fall-to-spring oyster harvest is expected to be about 10 percent of what it was before Hurricane Katrina, experts say.

The Mississippi oyster industry was dealt a serious blow by Katrina. There was no harvest between fall 2005 and this fall. Before Katrina, the oyster industry pumped about $100 million into Mississippi economy each year.

David Burrage, professor of marine resources at Mississippi State University’s Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi, said Tuesday only about 35,000 sacks of oysters are expected to be harvested between this fall and next spring, about 10 percent of the annual pre-Katrina harvest.

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Each sack of oysters in-the-shell weighs about 85 pounds.

Katrina, which slammed into the Mississippi coast on Aug. 29, 2005, damaged about 90 percent to 95 percent of Mississippi’s 12,000 acres of oyster beds.

The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, with federal funding, began rebuilding the oyster reefs in August 2006 using cultch plants. The plants consist of oyster shells or crushed concrete rubble spread over the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico using high-pressure hoses.

The material gives young oysters, or spats, a clean surface on which to attach and grow. After they attach, it takes them about 18 months to 24 months to reach marketable size.

“It’s one of our duties to see that our oyster reefs are developed and made as productive and profitable as possible,” said DMR shellfish coordinator Scott Gordon. “The cultch planting is one of the most essential tools we have to achieve that.”

Gordon said the success of the plants helped reopen the Mississippi oyster reefs this fall.

“We do have harvestable oysters, but we are limiting the harvest this year to protect the young oysters,” he said.

Gordon said the new reefs were important to an industry in which oystermen had been in business for 10 years or more.

“We probably have the best oyster reefs in the world right here in the Gulf, and with proper management of the resources, the industry can come back,” said Rusty Quave, who started going out on oyster boats when he was 10 and now owns a boat.

Quave, also mayor of D’Iberville, said the return of oyster boats to the Mississippi Gulf in 2007 was encouraging.

“We’re really not expecting much this year, but next year the harvest should be back to a good level,” said Phyllis Jenkins of Crystal Seas Oysters, a family owned business in Pass Christian specializing in oysters and shrimp.

“Most of the oysters we’re processing this year are from Louisiana, and we’re looking forward to Mississippi getting back into production,” Jenkins said.