Gulf Coast oyster population hit hard

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GULFPORT, Miss (WJTV) – An algae bloom off on the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been drawing national headlines over the last week, affecting everything from tourism, to marine life. 

However, amidst public fear and distrust of the seafood industry on the coast, restaurants and state officials say their seafood is safe to eat, and the algae isn’t even their biggest worry.

The Half Shell Oyster House in Gulfport is one of many restaurants in the area dealing with a major oyster problem. 

“With the spillway opening, allowing all of that freshwater infiltration into the Gulf, the salinity levels aren’t where they need to be,” said Stephen Godfrey, the General Manager of the Half Shell Oyster House.

Simply put, the influx of freshwater has been devastating to marine life in the Mississippi Gulf.

Joe Spraggins, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, says a record amount of rainfall forced the state to open up spillways, which has introduced a large amount of freshwater into the gulf, setting the local oyster industry back years. 

“I’m very concerned,” said Spraggins. “The first part of it we might’ve lived through that to the point of, if we could have closed [the spillways] in April, and left it closed, we might’ve been able to recoup to a point. It would have taken a lot less time. But now that there’s 100% mortality [of the oyster’s], we’re talking a minimum of three to five years [until we’re back to normal levels].”

There has been a public concern that with the addition of this freshwater plus the algae bloom closing beaches along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, that the seafood in the area isn’t safe to eat. Gut Godfrey says that simply isn’t true.

“All of our seafood comes from highly reputable vendors,” explained Godfrey. “They are only harvesting in those areas which have been cleared. So everything that we’re currently serving throughout our restaurants is safe.”

And Spraggins echoed that sentiment.

“Our seafood is safe,” said Spraggins. “You know, please come eat it, enjoy it, have fun.”

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