JACKSON — Today, Governor Tate Reeves announced that the U.S. Department of the Treasury has approved a RESTORE Act grant award of $7.62 million for the construction of the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) Oyster Hatchery and Research Center, located at USM’s Gulf Coast Research Lab at Cedar Point in Ocean Springs. The grant is administered by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ).

“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 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.

“It has become increasingly clear over the past several years that the decline in oyster production and harvesting is a problem for both the economy and the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast,” said Chris Wells, MDEQ Interim Executive Director. “This new hatchery, along with the implementation of other restoration projects, will be a key part of improving Mississippi’s oyster population.”

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.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to be at the foundation of applied research and development to benefit the resources of Mississippi,” said Kelly Lucas, Interim Associate Vice President for Research, Coastal Operations and Director of the Thad Cochran Marine Aquaculture Center. “This work benefits the Coast economy and ecology by putting oysters back into the Gulf ecosystem, improving water quality, replenishing habitat, stabilizing shorelines and providing delicious oysters for the seafood industry.”

These funds are part of the RESTORE Act’s Direct Component or “Bucket 1.” In the RESTORE Act, 35 percent of the total funds are reserved for Bucket 1 projects and are divided equally among the five Gulf Coast states for ecological and economic restoration. Eligible activities include: restoration and protection of natural resources; mitigation of damage to natural resources; workforce development and job creation; improvements to state parks; infrastructure projects, including ports; coastal flood protection; and promotion of tourism and Gulf seafood.

More information about Mississippi’s restoration efforts can be found at restore.ms.