Governor Tate Reeves and U.S. Senators Roger Wicker, Cindy Hyde-Smith, and Representative Steven Palazzo, celebrated the award of $7,624,559 to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) to support the construction of an oyster hatchery and research center operated by the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab (GCRL) at the Cedar Point campus in Ocean Springs.
“Oyster farming plays a huge role in both the economy and ecology of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This investment in restoring the oyster population will help boost our state’s economy and reinvigorate the Gulf Coast for years to come,” said Governor Tate Reeves. “This industry has taken serious hits in the past several years. We are truly grateful for President Trump and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin’s support of the University of Southern Mississippi and the Gulf Coast’s efforts to rebuild this vital part of our state’s economy.”
The funds are being made available as part of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act of 2012 (RESTORE Act), which provides funding for Gulf Coast states affected by the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill.
“The scientists at USM’s Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center have been hard at work restoring the natural bounty of Mississippi’s oyster beds,” Wicker said. “This long-awaited release of RESTORE Act funds will support the oyster hatchery and aquaculture center, which is critical to ensuring the return of a healthy and sustainable oyster population and the expansion of the aquaculture industry along the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”
“A healthy ecosystem for cultivating oyster reefs would mean benefits all around, not just for the environment but for the Gulf Coast economy,” Hyde-Smith said. “The GCRL is a wonderful institution that has the expertise to help Mississippi achieve this goal. I’m pleased the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality is a partner in this project.”
“As a lifelong resident of the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I understand the positive impact fisheries have on our local economy and our way of life. With this funding, the University of Southern Mississippi can expand its aquaculture program and create more research opportunities,” Palazzo said.
The center in Ocean Springs will support the state’s oyster restoration efforts by producing oyster larvae and conducting oyster aquaculture research. The preliminary design includes hatchery and oyster larvae production space, algae (feedstock) cultivation space, a laboratory, and support office space.
The center is currently in the design phase, and it is anticipated that USM will provide approximately $1.2 million in state funding for facility construction costs in addition to the RESTORE Act funding. An additional $4 million in RESTORE Act funding was included in MDEQ’s restoration planning for procurement and installation of the aquaculture systems equipment but has not yet been submitted to the U.S Department of the Treasury pending final design.