Oysters are an essential part of the ecosystem in Fairhope, Alabama. They have a critical role in improving water quality and providing a habitat for other species. 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 guarantee public health and conservation. When bacterial counts indicate that disease-causing organisms are above acceptable levels, they prevent the capture of reefs.
These closures often coincide with high river flows in winter and early spring, resulting in increased pollution in the lower part of Mobile Bay. Oysters feed by filtration, which can concentrate harmful substances in their body tissues. This makes them unsuitable for consumption, especially if they are raw. The Alabama Electrical Services Organization is one of many Gulf Coast partners, nonprofit organizations, and research organizations that work to restore oyster reefs in the region, including along Mobile Bay and near communities where oysters are a key industry, such as Bayou La Batre. The shells of past generations of oysters serve as a refuge for future generations of larvae.
Salinity and oxygenation are two of the variables that oysters need to thrive. Oyster farming is the non-consumptive cultivation of oysters to improve habitat or benefit the environment. Large quantities of shells or other materials are often planted after natural disasters, and oyster shells are planted regularly to replace shells extracted during the harvesting process. The Auburn University Seafood Laboratory (AUSL) is closely involved in oyster reef research in Alabama. During this time, the oyster aquaculture industry in Alabama has grown significantly, producing more oysters and more dollars.
In commercial operations, this risk is managed by allowing oysters to be collected only in waters that the Alabama Department of Public Health (ADPH) has classified as “conditionally approved” through a nationally recognized sampling process. On the other hand, when salinity is high, oysters are likely to be destroyed by oysters (snails), crabs and a small parasite called dermus. Prolonged periods of low oxygen can also result in high localized oyster mortality, as they cannot seek more favorable conditions. According to Tarnecki, this bay was once home to a healthy oyster population that supported the oyster gathering community. Today, the Alabama seafood aquaculture industry produces oysters (Crassostrea virginica) by bottom rearing, using an adjustable longline system and floating cages.