Oysters are an integral part of Alabama's culture, economy, and ecology. Unfortunately, their numbers have been on the decline since the 1950s due to overharvesting. To restore the oyster population, researchers are working to strengthen young oysters against predators and diseases. Guy Busby from Alabama Public Radio reports on the efforts to protect oysters in Mobile Bay.
The Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, is a species of great importance both commercially and ecologically. Oyster farmers use a variety of methods to protect their oysters from predators and diseases. One such method is to grow them at the bottom of the bay rather than in raised cages or bags. This reduces the risk of disease spreading, as well as increasing the survival rate of the oysters. Oyster farmers also take care of their nurseries, resulting in oysters with an average size of 2.5 inches.
When the season ends, all the oysters are returned to the program to be planted in restored sites or included in restoration projects. This helps reduce variability in consumer market supply and improves catering. Tal Ben-Horin, a fishery researcher at the University of Rhode Island, has found that farmed oysters reduce the risk of disease in nearby wild oysters by filtering out water riddled with parasites. This means that aquaculture can alleviate the impact of disease on wild oyster populations. In addition to disease, oyster farmers must also protect their oysters from natural predators such as oyster drills. Oyster drills can significantly reduce oyster populations if they take advantage of high salinities in Mobile Bay during dry years. Oyster farming is an essential part of protecting Alabama's oyster population.
By strengthening young oysters against predators and diseases, farmers are helping to restore the population and ensure its future.