Coastal Mississippi is known for its ample sun and sand, entertainment and gaming, and of course, the bounty of fresh seafood brought in daily from the Mississippi Sound and Gulf of Mexico. In fact, a century ago, Biloxi earned the nickname “seafood capital of the world” when it produced more than 20 million pounds of shrimp and oysters every year.
More recent years, though, haven’t been kind to inshore waters. A series of disasters in the early 21st century caused the local seafood industry to bottom out—first, damage to the reefs caused by hurricanes, followed by an oil spill and over-harvesting. Then in 2019, record flooding along the Mississippi River led officials to open a spillway that filled the Sound with freshwater, dropping the salinity and claiming more than 95 percent of the remaining oysters.
But now, the industry is rebounding due to new techniques practiced by local oyster growers like Eagle Point Oyster Company. At their small oyster farm in Ocean Springs and offshore of Deer Island, the company hatches oyster larvae and grows them to maturity in floating reefs just under the water's surface. They currently have nearly a million oysters in various stages of growth.
“We're not only trying to help re-establish the oyster fishery,” says Bradley Deleon, a marine biologist and co-owner of Eagle Point Oyster Company. “We want to get Mississippi back on the map in terms of oyster production.”
Communication is key to the daily operations at Eagle Point, not only keeping the crew members in contact with each other 24/7, but also making it easy to access apps and data that help them run the business. An app provided by the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources allows them to record data crucial for compliance, including the exact minute the oysters come out of the water and the exact minute they are refrigerated.
"Having a strong C Spire signal is so important to what Eagle Point Oyster Company does every day on the water,” says co-owner Matthew Mayfield. “It's what keeps us in business. We can't afford to have spotty, weak signals the way we operate.”
The principals of Eagle Point manage the oysters daily, tumbling them as they grow to create an attractive, deep cup and a meaty mollusk, often eaten raw on the half shell or fried to a golden brown in cornmeal.
“We’ve got this perfect oyster that’s been growing behind Deer Island,” Mayfield says. “They’re sweet, they’re buttery—they can’t taste like that anywhere else in the Gulf.”