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Oyster Culture in the Gulf of Mexico

August 4, 2015

Interest is growing in the states along the Gulf of Mexico to increase shellfish farming and restoration. Harvest of oysters in the region has declined due to a variety of factors following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, drought conditions in some states, and freshwater diversions of the Mississippi River. States across the region are looking to once again jumpstart both commercial farming, using off-bottom and cage culture methods, and restoration, building up hatchery production, traditional oyster beds and sanctuaries, and living shorelines.

The Governor of Mississippi issued an Executive Order in February of 2015 to create the Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council, made up of citizens, scientists and seafood industry leaders. The Council developed an Oyster Resource Resiliency Plan to propose strategies and recommendations.  Earlier this year, a delegation of Mississippi policymakers, regulators and industry participants toured shellfish farms and facilities in Maryland. These tours facilitated the sharing of best practices and innovative techniques being used by the shellfish community.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ active Oyster Task Force monitors the oyster industry and makes recommendations, coordinates efforts to increase oyster production and studies declines. Additionally, in recent years the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission issued a regional management plan for the oyster fishery.

Researchers at Auburn University, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab in Alabama, and Louisiana State University’s Grand Isle Lab are working with private growers to experiment in off-bottom and cage culture methods of growing oysters. These methods have been used in the Northeastern United States, but not previously tried in the Gulf region. Initial trials indicate that these methods can be adapted for use in the Gulf, producing suitable oysters for the lucrative raw bar market.

The Office of Aquaculture has talked to scientists, oyster farmers and harvesters, NGOs, and processors over the past few months about ideas for supporting these efforts. One possibility is to examine the economics of oyster markets, including questions like:

Explore more:

NOAA Southeast Regional Office
Shellfish Portal
Aquaculture Policy & Regulation