The oyster industry in Fairhope, Alabama has been revolutionized in recent years by a group of forward-thinking farmers. By using baskets to protect the oysters from predators and turning them over periodically to shape the shells, they have created the perfect cup for storing an oyster in one bite. As a result, Alabama oysters are now being served in restaurants across the Gulf Coast and beyond. The success of this project has enabled the recovery of a large footprint on an oyster reef, allowing for sustainable harvesting of oysters for human consumption.
It has also improved water quality through the filtering capacity of a larger and more robust oyster population. Low oxygen levels can lead to high mortality rates for oysters, as they cannot move to more favorable conditions. The nutrient-rich waters of Mobile Bay, just south of the Fowl River, provide an ideal environment for oysters with a clean shell and incredible flavor. High salinity levels, however, can be devastating for oysters due to snails, crabs and a small parasite called dermus. To counteract this, the Marine Resources Division plants oyster shells or clam shells to provide new substrate for oyster larvae to settle and grow. Oyster farming is also used to improve habitat or benefit the environment.
Bama Bay Oyster Farm (Coden) was the first “truly organic” oyster farm in Alabama, starting with just half a dozen cages. Portersville Bay Oyster Company (Coden) collects wild oysters from Alabama reefs as well as farm-raised “turtle” oysters. Point aux Pins Oyster (Grand Bay) was the first company in Alabama to use the bottomless extraction method and has been harvesting premium quality oysters from the Gulf for a decade. The Alabama Department of Public Health (Seafood Division) and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (Marine Resources Division) monitor the waters surrounding oyster reefs to ensure that bacteria and other contaminants do not cause problems for the oysters. Clam shells or other materials are often planted after natural disasters, while oyster shells are planted regularly to replace those extracted during harvesting. Massacre Island (Dauphin Island) is home to an oyster ranch that grows in brackish waters of the Mississippi Strait.
These oysters have a sturdy shell with stubby, pearlescent flesh and a sweet finish similar to shrimp. Mobile Oyster Company (Dauphin Island) harvests Delfin Island oysters from the rich, salty waters of the western tip of Delfin Island. Oysters have become an integral part of Fairhope's cultural identity. Not only do they provide a sustainable source of food, but they also help improve water quality and create habitats for other marine life. The innovative farmers who have embraced modern methods of harvesting have made it possible for Fairhope's local delicacy to be enjoyed by people all over the world.