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Mississippi Oysters Post Quality Year
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Oyster season is winding down in Mississippi, but early reports show it to be an excellent year in both quality and quantity.
Scott Gordon, biological program coordinator with the Department of Marine Resources in Biloxi, said the state had landed more than 276,000 sacks by March 31. A sack, a measurement of 1.98 cubic feet, weighs about 105 pounds and yields about 1 to 1.25 gallons of shucked oysters.
With April landings not yet calculated, this year's yield is already the sixth highest yield in 20 years. The season opened Oct. 12 and will close sometime in May.
"I expect we will exceed the 366,000 sacks harvested in 1998," Gordon said. "Oysters from Mississippi are the finest and best you can find anywhere in the world."
Mississippi's major oyster reefs are concentrated along the extreme western part of the Mississippi Sound, south of Pass Christian. The fresh water coming in from the Pearl River keeps the salinity at a level favorable for oysters. Some reefs are scattered across the rest of the coastline, but don't have the same flow of fresh water as those on the western side of the state.
Environmental conditions were more favorable to oyster harvest this year than they were in 1998.
"There were not as many problems with reef closings this year as we had last year with the El Nino rains," Gordon said.
Excess rain causes bacteria to runoff into the water. Since oysters are filter feeders, they concentrate the substances found in the water. Unsafe substances in the water lead to unsafe oysters.
"Oysters have a very high water quality standard that we are obligated to meet before we can open up the waters for direct harvest," Gordon said. "The water quality standard for shellfish growing areas is a lot higher than it is for swimming or other water recreation areas. It's the strictest water quality standard that we have."
Water samples show when the water is safe enough to harvest oysters again.
Ben Posadas, marine economist at Mississippi State University's Coastal Research and Extension Center, said the state produces more than 5 percent of the nation's oyster supply.
A sack of oysters is selling wholesale for about $15 and $17 at retail. These prices are average for this year's level of harvests, Posadas said.
"Mississippi is a small producer of oysters, so prices are influenced not only by landings in Mississippi, but by landings in other large producing states such as Louisiana," Posadas said.