Methods of Take
Mississippi’s oyster season for public reefs usually occurs between the colder months of October to April. There are two methods to harvesting oysters: dredging and tonging. An appropriate recreational or commercial oyster harvesting license is required for all methods of harvesting oysters within Mississippi waters.
A dredge may not exceed a weight of 115 pounds. The teeth of a dredge must be 5 inches or less in length and there may not be more than 16 teeth per dredge. A ‘hand’ dredge is smaller in size and has the following specifications: weighs not more than 40 pounds; has 10 or less teeth; a single tooth is not more than 5.25 inches in length. Hand dredges may only be used in harvest areas designated for dredging and are prohibited in tonging areas. Restrictions on the maximum number of dredges per vessel and the maximum number of sacks harvested daily will be established seasonally by the MDMR.
State rules and regulations for oyster harvesting and transport can be found in MDMR Title 22 Regulations, Part 1 and Part 17.
Definitions To Know*
A classification used to identify a growing area where harvest for direct marketing is allowed.
Conditionally Approved Area
A classification used to identify a growing area that meets the criteria for the approved classification except under certain conditions described in a management plan. This includes rainfall total and river stages.
A classification used to identify a growing area where harvesting shall be by special license and the shellstock, following harvest, is subjected to a suitable and effective treatment process through relaying or depuration.
A classification used to identify a growing area where the harvest of shellstock for any purpose, except depletion or gathering of seed for aquaculture, is not permitted.
*Definitions from the National Shellfish Sanitation Program’s “Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish.”
Oysters may be taken only from those waters approved for shellfish harvest by the MDMR.
The harvesting, shucking, processing and sale of oysters must conform to all regulations specified by state statute and regulations adopted by the MDMR.
Several natural reefs are located in approved and conditionally approved waters. They include:
- Telegraph Reef
- Pass Marianne Reef
- St. Joe Reef (St. Joseph’s Point Reef)
- Waveland Reef
- St. Stanislaus Reef
- Square Handkerchief Reef
- Henderson Point Reef
- Bay St. Louis Reef
- Biloxi Bay
- Pass Christian Dredging Reef
- Pass Christian Tonging Reef
Following a rainfall, elevated river stage or other pollution event, conditionally approved reefs and affected privately leased areas may be temporarily closed to oystering when poor water quality conditions exist. Such closures are released to local newspapers, television and radio media. Pertinent information about the opening and closing of reefs is available by calling the MDMR toll-free 24-hour Oyster Information Hotline at 228-374-5167 or 800-385-5902. The information may be updated daily during oyster season.
Oysters taken from Mississippi waters must be tagged. These tags are issued by the MDMR at officially designated check-in, check-out stations. These stations will be identified in the opening order for oyster season. Both commercial and recreational oyster harvesters must check in at the designated check station before going to reefs and must check out at the same station.
Tags are issued at the time of check out and inspection. Each tag must be completed with the harvester’s name, license/identification number, harvest date, harvest area and the shell-stock dealer’s name and identification number if the oysters are to be sold. Tags must be affixed to the sacks with the fasteners provided by the MDMR. All harvesters are required to pay a shell retention fee to the MDMR on the day of harvest. Shell retention fees will be used to further oyster production in the state.
Oysters taken from private leases must be designated by tags indicating the official lease numbers issued by the MDMR.
Oysters taken for personal consumption also must be inspected and a tag will be issued for each sack. Such tags will identify that the contents are not to be sold.
Each boat or vessel used to harvest or transport shellfish is required to have on board a functional, approved marine sanitation device (MSD), portable toilet or other approved sewage disposal receptacle designed to contain human sewage.
Oysters destined for interstate commerce must originate from a certified Mississippi dealer. No oysters shall enter or exit the state unrefrigerated.
Any oysters taken from other than Mississippi waters must be accompanied by a bill of landing indicating the point of origin.
Oysters may be harvested outside of Mississippi waters and transported by vessel into the state. However, the harvester must apply for a transport permit issued by the MDMR and comply with the provisions of the permit.
Between May 1 and Sept. 30, harvest vessels must have an awning or similar covering above shellstock to provide protection from the sun.
The commercial oyster season is regulated by the MDMR.
During open season, oysters may be taken only from legal sunrise until 4 p.m. These times are subject to change as deemed necessary by the MDMR.
Legal Size Limits
Oysters taken from public reefs in Mississippi waters must be at least 3 inches from hinge to bill. At times, however, the MDMR may adjust this limit upon public notice to that effect.
Legal Catch Limits
Recreational catch limits, set by Statute 49-15-46 (4), and commercial catch limits, set by Statute 49-15-38, are set annually.
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. 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. Former Gov. Phil Bryant created the Governor’s Oyster Council on Restoration and Resiliency in 2015 to address the problems this industry faces and develop solutions. Two possible solutions that the MDMR is exploring are remote setting and off-bottom oyster aquaculture.
Remote Setting Facility
Remote setting is the process of taking oyster larvae and placing it in a system where it is protected from predators and environmental factors that decrease the chance of oyster survival.
The MDMR is in Phase I of the RESTORE Council-funded Remote Oyster Setting Facility Project. The purpose of the Remote Oyster Setting Facility Project is to provide a facility which has the capability to set 2.5 billion oysters per year to restore Mississippi’s decimated oyster reefs at a faster rate than could be achieved in the wild. Not only will this benefit oyster reefs, but it will also aid the oyster industry and increase ecosystem services performed by the oyster reefs themselves. This includes providing a nursery for other important fisheries (recreational fishing, shrimp, etc.).
During Phase I, planning will help assess the overall feasibility of the facility to determine infrastructure layout of ongoing operational and maintenance costs, setting efficiencies and production milestones. MDMR successfully produced 11,703,819 spat-on-shell oysters over the course of six individual production runs which were completed within five months in summer 2021. This equates to 16.18% of the oyster larvae setting/surviving until deployment. MDMR’s original set rate goal was 15% with an average of 17 oysters per shell. The average size of the oysters planted was 2.74mm for the season. In total, 46.8 cubic yards of spat on shell was deployed in Biloxi Bay on existing MDMR cultch plant locations.
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 the 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 initial 50 acres. With the completion of the 2021 class, MDMR currently has 51 acres leased by farmers and upwards of 3.3 million oyster seeds being cultured. As of December 2020, the off-bottom industry has sold approximately 780,000 oysters. MDMR is training the 2021 class of farmers and expects the number of acres leased and total sales to increase.