The second phase of a program to rebuild oyster reefs in the western Mississippi Sound will begin next month.

Erik Broussard, director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources’ Shellfish Bureau, said Friday that employees and contractors will plant about 160 acres (64 hectares) of cultch material on several reefs by the end of August. Cultch is a fossilized material that’s produced by a living organism and designed to provide points of attachment for oysters, according to the Oyster Reef Restoration Project.

The first phase included planting on reefs in Pass Christian, Henderson Point, Pass Marianne, St. Joe, and Waveland. With the exception of Waveland, crews will revisit those reefs in August because the areas were too large to complete at one time, Broussard said.

“Plans are to plant in the fall, next spring and possibly next fall as well to continue restoration efforts,” he said.

Broussard said they hope to restore Mississippi’s oyster reefs and increase future production.

“By the end of the year, we will have planted more than 600 acres (243 hectares) of cultch material,” he said.

Broussard said it was too early to say definitively whether they’d seen any results from the earlier planting.

“We’re in the middle of our annual reef assessment and we will look at areas we planted this spring,” he said. “Initially, it looks successful. We saw some oyster recruitment to those areas, but we’re still reviewing.”

Broussard said fishermen with crab traps in the areas where the cultch planting is occurring are being asked to move them until the planting is complete.

The project is being funded by NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service. The fisheries disaster funding was the result of the 2011 opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway in Louisiana, which damaged both the oyster and crab fisheries in Mississippi when large amounts of fresh water were released into the Mississippi Sound north of the barrier islands. Officials have said the 2008 opening of the spillway destroyed almost 85 percent of local oysters.

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CHEVEL JOHNSON
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