The oyster industry boomed before Katrina. In 2004, oyster harvesters brought in more than 400,000 sacks. This year, the M.D.M.R. expects less than 5% of that. Jamie Miller, Executive Director of the M.D.M.R., says, "Well oysters are extremely important to the seafood industry but not just the industry. They provide a water quality benefit. So, it’s a habitat for other species that are found in the Mississippi Sound, it’s an economic benefit, and also serves as a huge environmental benefit. So it runs the gamut and its one of the greatest natural resources we have in Mississippi."
Miller and the Governor are concerned about the trickle-down effects the shrinking oyster population is having on the Mississippi Sound. Monday, Bryant signed an executive order creating an Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council. Bryant says, "So what we’re doing today is saying we’re going to rebuild the oyster industry on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I put an all-star staff together for the Governor’s Restoration and Resiliency Council."
While business and homeowners were able to rebuild after Katrina, the oyster population isn’t so simple. The Governor hopes his council can make a dent in improving oyster harvests. Dave Dennis, Chairman of the Oyster Council, says, "That’s a cultivation process, that’s not like a building you go back and rebuild in six months, you’ve got to regrow, you’ve got to redo your reefs, you’ve got to do a lot of things."
Governor Bryant and Director Miller say increasing the oyster population will create more jobs on the Coast. Miller closes, "The folks that go and harvest, there’s a direct impact there. The processors that will then package and sell that to other dealers and the restaurants that will serve them in the restaurants throughout the region. So there’s a lot of people impacted directly and indirectly, and at the end of the day, it means more jobs."
The council hopes to get annual oyster harvests up to one million sacks by 2025, or 50 times the number expected this year.