Oysters are a popular seafood delicacy in Fairhope, Alabama, and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is responsible for monitoring and managing the oyster population. The ADCNR evaluates public oyster reefs annually by divers using transects to determine the density of oysters on the reefs. This data is used to make recommendations to the director about the state of the oyster reefs and whether they should be closed for biological reasons or if different catch limits should be imposed. The ADCNR also helps the Alabama Department of Public Health's Seafood Subdivision collect samples to monitor oysters on public reefs and ensure public health.
An annual reef improvement program is funded by money received from the sale of oyster plates. This program plants oyster shells, received from local processors, on public reefs. The current conditions of natural oyster hatcheries and challenges, such as the increase in rainfall upstream, which reduces salinity below the levels that oysters can tolerate, are discussed. Ways to restore oyster farms to obtain healthy, wild-caught oysters suitable for harvesting are also explored.
Recreational pickers can collect up to 100 legal-sized oysters (minimum 3 inches) in the same areas and during the same hours as they collect them commercially. Pickers are reminded to visit oyster management stations located in front of Jemison's Bait and Tackle (16871 Dauphin Island Parkway, Coden, Alabama 3652) or Delta Port Marina (5080 Green Drive, Coden, Alabama 3652) to leave their OMS identification cards and confirm which grills are open for harvesting before starting their harvesting journey. Nowadays, there are fewer and fewer wild-caught oysters, as oyster farms have become exhausted and replenishment conditions have become more difficult. Andy's strong work with Vibrio, a natural bacterium common in estuaries, such as fish and shellfish, underpins national and international control plans to reduce the risk of gastroenteritis and more serious diseases due to the consumption of raw shellfish, especially oysters. Runoff is full of pathogens and nutrients, causing frequent closures for oyster harvesting and harmful algae blooms. The ADCNR will open limited areas of public oyster funding for harvesting Monday through Friday starting Monday in October.
Many of these oysters are served raw with half a shell or grilled in Steiner's food truck, The Roaming Oyster. Pickers can view their locations and open collection areas with the gridded oyster map from the Alabama Oyster Management Station (WHO). They are attracted to the scent that other oysters give off in the fifty gallons of seawater they filter every day. Oysters are an important part of Fairhope's culture and economy. To ensure that they remain abundant for generations to come, it is essential that we take steps to preserve them.
The ADCNR has taken a proactive approach by monitoring public reefs annually and providing funding for reef improvement programs. They also help the Alabama Department of Public Health's Seafood Subdivision collect samples to monitor oysters. Recreational pickers can collect up to 100 legal-sized oysters, while Andy's work with Vibrio helps reduce the risk of diseases due to consuming raw shellfish. Finally, limited areas of public oyster funding will be opened for harvesting Monday through Friday starting Monday in October. By following these steps, we can ensure that Fairhope's oysters remain abundant for generations to come.