The oyster industry is an integral part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast – its economy, its history and its culture. The oyster industry has suffered greatly because of several natural and man-made disasters since 2005, including Hurricane Katrina, the BP Oil disaster and four separate openings of the Bonnet Carre Spillway (2008, 2011, 2016 and 2019). In 2004, oyster fishermen in Mississippi harvested nearly 500,000 sacks of oysters. In 2012, there were 65 sacks harvested, and in 2016, about 40,000 sacks were harvested. Gov. Phil Bryant created the Governor’s Oyster Council on Restoration and Resiliency in 2015 to address the problems this industry faces and to come up with solutions. One of those solutions is a remote-setting facility. Remote setting is a method of producing oysters that differs from natural oyster production. Remote setting is the production of oyster spat by setting hatchery-reared larvae onto cultch substrate (hard material for oyster larvae to attach, typically shell, crushed concrete or limestone) at a remote location from the hatchery. Spat are then planted on-bottom or off-bottom.
Port of Gulfport Remote Setting Facility
The goal of this facility is to assist in increasing the production of the natural oyster reefs along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
In 2017 MDMR began setting oysters in four 2,600-gallon tanks at the Port of Gulfport. During its first year of operation, the facility restored over 30 acres of water bottom by the remote setting method. This assisted in increasing the production of the natural oyster reefs along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
Off-Bottom Oyster Aquaculture Training Program
The Off-Bottom Oyster Aquaculture program has been increasingly successful since its start in 2018. The program includes classroom and field education in oyster aquaculture production and techniques, as well as aiding in development of operational and business plans for their future in the industry.
The Deer Island Aquaculture Park now provides upwards of 450 acres of potential aquaculture real estate which is an increase from the 2018’s 50 initial acres. With the completion of 2018 and 2019 classes, MDMR currently has 51 acres leased by 24 farmers and upwards of 2.8 million oyster seed being cultured. As of December 2020, the off-bottom industry has sold upwards of 560,000 individual oysters with a profit of $330,000. MDMR’s 2020 class has more participants than ever before, so the expected number of leased acreage and 2021 sales is expected to double industry production and sale volume.