Oysters (Crassostrea virginica) are a key part of the Alabama seafood aquaculture industry, and have traditionally been harvested using the outdated clamp method. This involves small ships using rakes at the ends of long wooden poles to collect oysters from public reefs. However, this method is becoming increasingly inefficient, leading to fewer jobs and fewer Alabama oysters. To combat this, an adjustable longline system and floating cages are being used to bottom rear oysters.
This allows farmers to reduce losses caused by predation, as oysters are protected in baskets placed at the bottom. Before beginning cultivation, Alabama oyster farmers must obtain the use of private oyster shoreline rights. This can be done by purchasing waterfront property when such shoreline rights are applicable or by leasing shoreline rights that have already been obtained by another owner of the waterfront property. In a short film made by the Southern Foodways Alliance, an oyster farmer from Alabama referred to this bivalve revival as an “oyster revolution.” Recreational oyster pickers are also limited to 100 oysters per person per day during the days and times when the reef is open. Farm-raised Gulf oysters are one of the star dishes of Southern cuisine, and over the past two years, at least six new oyster bars have been created across the region. On the east coast, in areas near the oyster farms of Chesapeake Bay, scientists describe the presence of crystal clear water halos, where farmed oysters filter the water. This is a testament to their effectiveness in cleaning up polluted waters. Scott Bannon, Alabama's director of Marine Resources, concluded that it is doubtful that, within several generations, oysters can be grown on old dredge boreholes or in their immediate vicinity.
Because oyster farming involves a heavy financial investment, there is always a risk of theft and acts of vandalism, whether it's fishing gear or the oysters themselves. Despite these natural and man-made setbacks, Alabama is focusing on turning its losses into half-assets, creating a market for locally grown oysters. While state officials hope the bay's oyster population will recover, they recognize that the tiny oyster larvae have barely survived in recent years.