The oyster industry has been a part of Fairhope, Alabama for centuries. From the 18th century fishing community of Bon Secour to the modern-day oyster farms, the evolution of this industry has been remarkable. As a doctoral candidate, I had the opportunity to research this fascinating topic and write a research proposal to get a grant. In 1928, the oyster harvest in Alabama was estimated to be around 27 million oysters, with each pound of oyster meat containing around 15 oysters. This was done using clamps, which are long wooden posts with metal rakes attached to the ends.
However, this method was not ideal as it could damage the oysters and their shells. To combat this, Supan strove to teach local oyster farmers to spit out their shells before placing them empty back in the water. The quality of the oysters found in Mobile Bay is renowned, particularly those from Bon Secour. To further improve the industry, legal changes were made in 1923 and 1933 which opened parts of the bay to oyster dredging. Unfortunately, this practice was allowed to continue in Alabama even after Florida and Louisiana banned it in their waters in the 1960s. Fortunately, dredging was not allowed on most commercial farms in Alabama as well as other states.
Instead, oyster farmers had to find ways to cultivate wild oysters that Mother Nature couldn't. This led to the development of oyster farms which now produce 1 million oysters in one end of Baldwin County. Oyster snails can kill 85% of young oysters on a reef, so it is important for farmers to take preventative measures. Over thousands of years, layers of oysters grew at the bottom and new generations grew on top of the old ones as new sediments deposited by the rivers of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta filled the now flooded river valley. On the east coast, near the oyster farms of Chesapeake Bay, scientists describe the presence of crystal clear water halos where farmed oysters filter the water. Gulf oysters come in all shapes, sizes and flavors and there are many ways to prepare them to your liking.
The author concluded that it is doubtful that oysters can be cultivated at or near old dredge cuts several generations from now.