A new leasing program in Mississippi is looking to put the production and maintenance of oyster reefs into the hands of the businesses and individuals.
Mike Arguelles, Co-Owner of French Hermit Oyster Co., said a major storm like a hurricane can cause damage to their product.
French Hermit Oyster Co. referenced Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Zeta that brought disruption to oyster production.
Arguelles harvests oysters from 32 cages five miles off the Gulf Coast. But raising oysters in cages above the sea floor alone, is not enough to keep up with the demands of the seafood industry.
Arguelles said his oysters are distributed to seven different states. He is now looking to build his own oyster reefs to grow and harvest from the ocean floor.
"The bottom has to be suitable, hard so that the oysters that are there don't sink. There are certain areas that could be a candidate for a reef," Arguelles said.
The opportunity comes from a new leasing program from the state. Executive Director of Mississippi Department of Marine Resources Joe Spraggins said the lease is aimed to help boost oyster production.
Spraggins said the lease will now allow businesses and individuals to create oyster reefs in areas that were previously off limits.
"We don’t have the resources to be able to cultch and maintain the full 8,000, 9,000 acres that we would have in that area. And by them being able to lease about 80% of it, then they can go in and do that and that will be able to put the oysters back in," Spraggins said.
Spraggins said in a time of disaster it would be easier for a private individual to move oysters.
The number of oysters sold by Mississippi farmers in 2021 was 213,772 and in 2020 the count was 512,651 according to Mississippi State University.
"I was glad to see that the state was expanding their on-bottom lease efforts and I think it's a way to increase the oyster production," Arguelles said.
Spraggins said the department will monitor the areas when they are leased.
Mississippi Department of Marine Resources said they have 80 applications for the leasing program as of September 11th. The leasing areas have not yet been allocated.