THE COAST 75 OYSTERS It can take up to two years for oysters in the Gulf of Mexico to reach marketable size (three inches). Dating back to the late 1800s, the oyster industry in Mississippi has been on the Coast, where records show two million pounds of oysters were processed in 1890. Seafood factories for fishing and canning opened and involved entire families in the process of harvesting. The numbers continued to grow, and by 1902, canneries reported almost 6 million pounds of oysters which led to Biloxi being referred to as “The Seafood Capital of the World.” More than 400,000 sacks of oysters were harvested from Mississippi waters in 2004 but fell to 26,000 sacks by 2015 in part due to Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. In order for the State to return as a leader of oyster production, Governor Phil Bryant created the Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council which has created a plan in order to implement strategic steps necessary to increase oyster harvest and create new job and business opportunities. Tonging is one of the principal methods of harvesting oysters from the Mississippi Sound and its connecting waters. Tonging usually involves a crew of one or two fishermen and is performed from flat-bottom skiffs. The tongs, an elongated basket-like device with handles, are lowered down to the oyster reefs while the handles are moved to work the oysters into the baskets. Once hauled onto deck, the oysters are sorted on a culling board with those below-market size returned to the water. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY