Oyster farming has been a part of Alabama's history for centuries, with the state legislature enacting laws as early as 1882 to protect the industry. A survey conducted by the state Department of Game and Fish in 1923 revealed that almost none of the oysters consumed raw in Alabama at the time came from Mobile Bay. Unfortunately, in 1946, the most destructive of all practices began: the bay was opened for the extraction of old oyster and clam shell deposits for use as filling material in concrete. This caused a significant decline in oyster populations. In recent years, however, oyster farming has made a comeback in Alabama.
Currently, there are 13 commercial oyster farms with a production of about 25 acres, according to Auburn University. These boutique oysters are featured on menus across the state and beyond, and foodies at all levels enjoy the surplus of local produce. Oyster baskets can be taken out of the water for a while to remove biofouling, and balancing the cages also helps to harden oyster shells. This preparation method is also used for oyster restoration initiatives, such as that of the Port School of Urban Assembly in New York for the Billion Oyster Project. While Oriental oysters can produce small pearls, they don't have a significant size and therefore have no commercial value.
According to research conducted by Auburn University, it is doubtful that oysters can be cultivated at or near old dredge cuts several generations from now. By contrast, Mobile Bay oysters went directly to canning factories, while residents ate raw oysters from Florida and Mississippi. Today, if you were brought here blindfolded, you would never have imagined that you were standing in a huge oyster terminal. The fascinating history of oyster farming in Alabama is one that continues to evolve.