Page 54 - South Mississippi Living - August, 2021
P. 54

               In 2018, the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources (MDMR) was awarded a RESTORE-Act grant through the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality to develop a program that would train local farmers to grow oysters using the off-bottom oyster aquaculture (OBOA) technique. Located offshore, approximately 400 feet southeast of Deer Island, the Deer Island Commercial Aquaculture Park teaches farmers how to grow, care for, market, and sell off-bottom oysters. Farmers purchase seeds from local hatcheries that are then cultivated near the water’s surface.
By caging the oysters off the seafloor, the OBOA method helps keep oysters from burial in sediment and provides additional protection from predators. When they reach maturity, oysters are harvested and spun in a tumbler, resulting in a smooth finish, perfect for plating. This unique method of growing oysters
has become increasingly popular, and the results are fat and delicious oysters. Most notably, the OBOA grant provides a platform for both novice and seasoned fishermen to partake in and benefit from the OBOA movement.
Lee Family Farms joined the program in 2019 with no prior commercial fishing experience. Having been small business owners, Stephen and Lesley Lee enjoy the self-sufficient and flexible schedule that the OBOA program provides. Lesley
admits that the task of prepping and sinking oyster cages prior to hurricanes within their deep-water
lease area has been
incredibly daunting.
However, the rewards
have been monumental and the experience of growing and nurturing the oysters has been rewarding.
Mike Moore, owner of Biloxi Oyster Company, has spent
his entire life working in the commercial fishing and charter industry. Moore and his family have benefited from the additional income generated by the OBOA program during the tourism off-season. Although his foray into oyster farming began with the traditional dredging method, Moore emphasizes the need for new and innovative ways to capitalize on the demand for local products.
Leading the pack of commercial OBOA farmers are Mike
and Anita Arguelles. Having years of experience as marine contractors, the Arguelles jumped on the opportunity to participate in this groundbreaking program and founded French Hermit Oysters. Not long into the program, they saw the need
54 | August 2021 | SOUTH MISSISSIPPI Living
 A New Era
story by Kimberly C. Rasmussen
The art of acquiring and eating oysters is deeply rooted in our local heritage. Since the mid-19th century, the Gulf Coast has harvested and
sold these succulent treasures to eager consumers. From the early days of canning to the current desire for raw consumption, love for this salty, seafaring friend hasn’t faltered. The supply, however, has faced many challenges, both natural and manmade, resulting in difficulty for local oyster farmers who are trying to keep up with demand. Innovative ways to cultivate oysters are on the horizon and the Gulf Coast has embraced a new approach to oyster production.

   52   53   54   55   56