DEER ISLAND COMMERCIAL AQUACULTURE PARK
The oyster industry along the Mississippi Sound currently is limited to harvestable reefs; however, the number of oysters available for harvest has decreased in the past decade, which has limited the number of oystermen and fishermen engaged in this economic sector. MDMR was awarded a Restore Act Grant for the development of an off-bottom oyster aquaculture training program.
ABOUT OFF-BOTTOM OYSTER AQUACULTURE
Off-bottom oyster aquaculture is the cultivation of oysters in containers (baskets, bags or cages) that are kept above the sea floor. These oysters are typically hatchery-reared seed oysters instead of wild oysters.
When properly operated, the containers provide protection from predators and eliminate burial in sediment, allowing oysters to be cultured in areas where oysters would not survive traditional. Oysters produced using off-bottom culture techniques are typically sold to the premium half-shell market by count. Off-bottom aquaculture requires significant investments of time, labor and money, but has the potential to provide a consistent supply of premium high-quality oysters for the half-shell market.
REBUILDING MISSISSIPPI’S OYSTER INDUSTRY
The Off-Bottom Oyster Aquaculture Program aims to teach potential and current commercial oyster farmers all aspects of off-bottom oyster farming appropriate to the local area. Participants will be positioned to operate and maintain economically and environmentally sustainable off-bottom oyster farms in the state of Mississippi, which will increase the quantity and value of Mississippi’s annual oyster harvest.
This program has been approved for two years and takes place south of Deer Island in Biloxi at the Deer Island Aquaculture Park. MDMR is accepting 20 participants per year to take part in a two-phase program.
Includes classroom and field education on aquaculture, business operations and demonstrations of off-bottom aquaculture techniques. During the first phase, participants attended training meetings, workshops, received assistance with development of a business plan, deployed grow-out systems at training site(s) and stocked those systems with seed.
Incorporate hands-on training by allowing participants to select an oyster-growing technique from the range of permitted methods using information gained from phase one. Participants will maintain their assigned gear and oyster seed, including all aspects of fouling control, grading, splitting and site maintenance following best management practices. Instructors and participants will periodically evaluate oyster survival, growth and quality, as well as comparing individual success among program participants to facilitate collaborative learning.
If all requirements are completed the participants will be eligible to sublease two acres from the MDMR to begin their own off-bottom oyster aquaculture business.