Oyster Reefs

Pass Oyster Reefs

     The Pass Christian group of productive oyster beds have historically been documented on maps since D'Iberville and Bienville chartered these waters in 1699.  Early maps of the area refer to the reefs and batures as Passe aux Huîtres (Oyster Pass).  
     There are nine principal reefs comprising an area of about twenty square miles.  This group of reefs are the most important in the state, both in production and acreage.  During the oyster seasons, as many as 150 fishing boats and tonging skiffs can be seen just off shore.
     Some of the major reefs in the Pass group are: the Pass Christian Tonging Reef, which is situated due south of the town from which it derives its name, and extends for a distance of one and one-half miles off shore.  Its area is about one and one-half square miles.
     Further west are the Henderson Point and Calico reefs which are positioned from one to two miles south of Henderson Point.  The foundation of these reefs is of sticky mud and sand, with large quantities of shell fragments.  Such a mixture has formed a firm foundation for the reef, and at the same time provides a considerable quantity of natural cultch.  The combined areas of these reefs amount to about one square mile.  Oysters taken from these reefs are superior to those taken from the Pass Christian Tonging Reef.  Clustering is much less evident, and the oysters are of much better shape.
         Pass Christian possesses some of the finest oyster reefs in the world.  One of these reefs is located just offshore, extending two and a half miles in length.  For hundreds of years these reefs have afforded a source of supply to the whole coastal region.  
     The Pass Christian group of producing oyster beds consists of nine major reefs, comprising an area of about twenty square miles.  This group of reefs is most significant to the state of Mississippi.




Pass Marianne Reef is nearly circular in form.  It is an area of about two and one-half square miles.  In years past, the Pass Marianne Lighthouse was located approximately in the center of the reef.  The conditions of this reef are essentially the same as those found at the Square Handkerchief Reef.
      According to John H. Lang, the waters opposite Pass Christian cover the largest oyster reefs to be found south of Chesapeake Bay, and still further south over in the Louisiana marshes the finest oysters that can be found anywhere are growing by the million barrels.  These oysters from both states are brought to our seafood packing plants at Pass Christian and Biloxi, there being 15 firms packing this catch, which runs into hundreds of thousands of barrels annually.  As reported in 1938.




Growing Oysters John H. Lang

     Oyster planting should be done on good water bottoms that are hard enough for planted shells to cling to and not sink in soft muds.  Planting oyster shells on top of existing reefs is not necessary and actually a loss of labor and good shells that could be planted elsewhere that good bottoms exist or where rip-rap was first laid.
     The natural reefs have existed for thousands of years and can be over fished without new reefs created and oysters planted.  Oysters grow on anything that is hard enough to hold the spawn or spat after it has attached itself.  The great banks of shells forming the reefs must be many feet thick so that when oysters are dredged or tonged from the reefs it leaves the bank of small shells on which the spawn, spat, or seed settles and grows; then too, if the oysters which have been caught and culled these culled shells should be planted at new sites to create new reefs.


Harbor Factories and Oyster Reefs
      One of the earliest seafood plants was owned and operated by Dunbar-Dukate and Company.  The plant was located at the present site of the Pass Christian Yacht Club.  The plant was originally built in 1902 and was destroyed by the 1947 hurricane.
     Workers arrived by truck or box car and were housed in special cottages owned by the factory.  There was a large apartment building on Market Avenue which the locals called the "White Elephant", and was reported to house as many as 30 families.  Additionally, there were the Row Houses consisting of rows of duplexes built one after the other.
     The "Green Row" on Dunbar Street had 16 duplexes, and the "Red Row" on Woodman Avenue had 19 duplexes.  These houses were eventually abandoned when in 1956 mechanical oyster shuckers were installed, thereby eliminating the need for so many employees.

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