By Tom Walker
By Tom Walker
The traditional harvest of Gulf of Mexico oysters has declined in recent years and commercial oyster farming is being looked at to fill the gap. The increased interest by the Gulf of Mexico states for shellfish farming and restoration and their activities supporting expansion of shellfish production was reported in a recent NOAA Aquaculture Newsletter.
Earlier this year, the Governor of Mississippi created the Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council made up of citizens, scientists and seafood industry leaders whose task it is to develop an Oyster Resource Resiliency Plan that includes proposed strategies and recommendations for an improved shellfish industry. Also in this state, a delegation of policymakers, regulators and industry participants toured shellfish farms in Maryland to learn best practices and innovative techniques for shellfish culture.
Researchers at Auburn University, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, and Louisiana State University’s Grand Isle Lab are working with private growers to develop off-bottom and cage culture methods of growing oysters specifically for this area. These methods while successful in the Northeastern United States have not been previously tried in the Gulf region. Initial trials indicate that both systems can be adapted for local use and produce suitable oysters for the lucrative raw market.
The NOAA Office of Aquaculture has been talking to scientists, oyster farmers and harvesters, NGOs, and processors about how to support these efforts. Information on the size of the half shell market in the US and whether the growth in production of off-bottom oysters should be matched with market development to create new markets will factor into industry development decisions.