Oysters are an integral part of the coastal ecosystem, and the Alabama Oyster Management Plan (AOMP) is designed to ensure that these resources are managed responsibly. The AOMP is a comprehensive program that includes annual evaluations of public oyster reefs, monitoring of oyster catches, and a reef improvement program funded by the sale of oyster plates. The Alabama Wildlife Federation (AWF) has also been instrumental in expanding several reefs in Mobile Bay. The AOMP is overseen by the Marine Resources Division (MRD) of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
The MRD works in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Public Health's Seafood Subdivision to collect samples from public reefs and guarantee public health. The data collected 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 AWF has been a key partner in oyster restoration efforts, and they have worked to expand several other reefs in Mobile Bay. Scott Bannon, director of the MRD, believes that Alabama's oyster environment has improved significantly in recent years, but he also believes it would be foolish to allow fishermen to exploit it.
Oysters can only grow naturally in some hard-bottomed estuaries, within specific salinity requirements that necessitate a constant flow of fresh and salt water. Limestone from North Alabama is flown into the waters of a coastal area known as Cedar Point West in August to help maintain this delicate balance. Oysters also provide shelter for future generations of larvae, as the shells of past generations serve as a refuge for them. At the beginning of the 20th century, Alabama's reefs were so abundant that they gave rise to three full-time canning factories that shipped oysters across the country.
However, since then science has revealed the fundamental role played by oysters in a coastal ecosystem, and oyster crops in Mobile Bay are now a fraction of what they were a century ago. The MRD works hard to protect these resources from theft and exploitation. Officers have caught people attempting to hide bags of oysters weighing about 200 pounds under false floors of boats. The MRD also works with local processors to provide shells for an annual reef improvement program funded by money received from the sale of oyster plates.
In December 2020, one reef was suddenly closed due to bacterial contamination. In response, Williams and his wife started an online petition urging the state to keep the waters open throughout the oyster season. The AOMP is an essential program for preserving and protecting Alabama's oyster resources. It is designed to ensure that these resources are managed responsibly and sustainably for future generations.
The MRD works closely with local processors and other partners to ensure that oysters are harvested responsibly and that public health is not compromised. The AWF has also been instrumental in expanding several reefs in Mobile Bay, providing more habitat for future generations of larvae.