The oyster industry in Fairhope, Alabama has been facing a number of challenges over the years, from habitat loss to the degradation of oyster reefs. This has caused a decrease in filtration and protection of the coast against erosive forces. Oysters are particularly sensitive to changes in water salinity, and too much fresh water can be fatal for them. Additionally, snails and crabs that like to bite mollusks can thrive in waters with too high a salinity.
According to the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, one particular snail, the oyster drill, can kill up to 85% of young oysters on a reef.
Restoration and Environmental Protection ProgramsIn order to combat these issues, oyster cultivation has been a successful restoration and environmental protection program in the Mobile Bay estuary since 2001. This program has helped to rebuild the oyster reef by depositing young oysters extracted from the nearby Mississippi Strait. However, this process has been hindered by the extraction of old oyster and clam shell deposits for use as filling material in concrete since 1946. This practice has robbed the bay of large numbers of adult oysters and generations of young oysters.
Successful Oyster FarmsFortunately, there are now successful oyster farms in Baldwin County that are helping to restore the oyster population.
One such farm is run by a former student who became a pioneer of oyster farms thanks to the choice of a lifelong nun and shrimp farmer. This farm grows 1 million oysters in one end of Baldwin County. In addition, previously, oysters could only be harvested in Alabama with clamps, which are long wooden posts with metal rakes attached to the ends.
Ensuring a Thriving IndustryThe challenges faced by the oyster industry in Fairhope, Alabama are significant but not insurmountable.
With continued efforts to cultivate and restore the oyster population, it is possible to ensure that this important industry continues to thrive for years to come.