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Business Planning

Just like any start-up business, oyster farming takes a significant investment in time, funding, and exposure to risk of loss. Before you go any further, make sure you have all the knowledge and resources you’ll need by creating a business plan.

Off-Bottom, On-Bottom, or Off-Pier?

Private oyster farming in Alabama follows one of three techniques—the traditional on-bottom method, in which the oysters remain submerged at all times along the seafloor; the off-bottom method, in which the oysters are suspended above the seafloor in mesh containers; or the off-pier method, where an existing pier is utilized to set up your harvesting methods. Learn more about each method to see which is the best fit for your business.

Off-Bottom Farming

Off-bottom oyster farming is well established in other parts of the world, including the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, but it’s a relatively new methodology here in the Gulf of Mexico.

The technique involves elevating the oysters above the seafloor through mesh containers. This allows the oysters—which are typically hatchery-reared single set oysters for this method—to be cultured in certain environments where the oysters wouldn’t survive on the seafloor due to predation, high salinity, and other factors.

In addition to providing protection from predators (like the Oyster Drill), there are many other benefits to the off-bottom method. Because the oysters emerge from the water during low tide, fouling species like barnacles and mud worms can be eliminated, which results in a better appearance and shape for the shells. All of these factors also result in a more consistent flavor of the product.

Off-bottom oysters are quite a commitment in terms of time, money, and physical labor, but these are premium oysters that can fetch good and consistent prices on the half-shell market.

If you end up choosing the off-bottom farming technique, we’ve got a business plan that’s specifically tailored for your needs. Check out the link below to estimate the cost of your new venture.

Off Bottom Business Plan

On-Bottom Farming

On-bottom oyster farming is the traditional method of oyster harvesting in the Gulf of Mexico. This is the most common technique for the harvesting of public commercial and recreational fisheries as well as many private oyster grounds.

Management of on-bottom oyster farms revolves around layering the seafloor with clutch (oyster shell, limestone, etc.) to harden the substrate. Wild oysters are then cultured via spat fall that will attach itself to the clutch.

This method has been popular for decades because it allows for high levels of production and fruitful harvests. However, there is more ebb and flow to the harvests of on-bottom oysters due to a number of factors including predating, dramatic salinity fluctuation, and poor oyster recruitment.

Due to the irregular shell shapes that result from on-bottom farming, these oysters are typically found on the shucked market.

Off-Pier Farming

A third option for harvesting your own oysters is to set up shop off an existing pier. The methods will vary depending on the size of your operation—if you wish to only grow 1,000 oysters or so off the end of your dock, equipment like oyster floats or oyster cages or baskets are simple and effective. There are different varieties of floats, cages, and baskets that will suit your needs based on your goals.

Seed Supply

If you want to grow and harvest your own oysters, you’ll need to find a oyster "seed". Oyster “seed” is oyster larvae that’s grown in a nursery in a specific way that allows it to become individual oysters, or “singles,” which are then used for off-bottom farmers.    

See picture to the right. (Photo Credit: Gillian Grice)

  There are currently two commercial oyster seed suppliers in Alabama.  Please contact them for seed availability and pricing.        

  Murder Point Oyster Company

13640 N Wintzell Ave

Bayou La Batre, AL 36509

(251) 379-4892

 

Double D Oyster Company 2830 Lawrence Steiner Road Theodore, AL 36582 (251) 591-7346

Production Gear

From long-line systems to bottom cages to floating bags, there’s a lot to learn about oyster farming gear before you get started.

On-bottom farming and off-pier farming can be accomplished without elaborate systems in place. However, the off-bottom farming method requires a fairly complex gear setups. For more information on various types of off-bottom harvesting equipment, check out the PDFs below.

Security

Because oyster farming involves a hefty financial investment, there’s always going to be a risk of theft and vandalism, whether it’s gear that’s at risk or the oysters themselves. A security camera system is recommended if possible, and if your oyster farm is located next to or close to another farm, you might be able to assist each other with extra security measures like regular watches.

Branding & Marketing

Just like snowflakes, all Gulf oysters are unique. Wherever you decide to begin your oyster farm, whichever technique you decide to employ, your oysters will need to stand out from the crowd. From salinity and flavor to texture, size, and appearance, here are a few ways you can customize your Gulf oysters.

If you want to build consumer loyalty, you have to make sure people are eating your oysters, and that involves branding. A creative name, a recognizable logo, and an active online presence can do wonders for your business in terms of creating demand for your product.

If you’re looking for more branding advice for your oyster business, Dr. Bill Walton’s Branding Opportunities For Oyster Farmers video is a great place to start.

Branding Video

Site Selection

First and foremost, any oyster farms that are intended to be harvested for market must reside in waters that are classified as at least “conditionally approved” by the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Before cultivating begins, Alabama oyster farmers are required by law to obtain the use of private oyster riparian rights, either by purchasing waterfront property where such riparian rights are applicable or through leasing riparian rights that have already been obtained by another waterfront property owner. Learn more about riparian rights and other factors involved in site selection to determine what arrangement will work best for your business.

Riparian Rights

In the world of oyster farming, riparian rights (i.e. rights pertaining to wetlands adjacent to rivers and streams) allow waterfront property owners to determine who is allowed to plant and gather oysters in a designated area up to 1,800 feet offshore from the low tide mark. If there are multiple oyster farmers operating adjacent to each other where the distance from shore to shore is less than 3,600 feet (1,800 feet from each property), both property owners may plant and gather up until the point of an equidistant line between both shores, as long as they’re not planting in any natural channel that will interfere with navigation. (For further information, see Section 9-12-22 of the Selected Laws and Regulations Document.)

Other Factors

On top of riparian rights, there are other factors to consider when selecting the site for your oyster farm.
  • Make sure you’ve obtained “conditionally approved” status for your harvesting site from the Alabama Department of Public Health.
  • Additionally, it may be difficult to obtain the necessary permits if you’ve selected a site where submerged aquatic vegetation (sea grasses) exists.
  • Beyond simply obtaining permits and licenses and government approval for your site, make sure you select a site where your oysters will thrive! Conditions such as prolonged freshwater, low dissolved oxygen, and a salinity above 15 parts per thousand should contribute to accelerated growth and high survival rates for your oyster harvests.

GIS Map of Farming Sites

In most cases, before setting up your oyster farm, you’ll need to know the lay of the land.

Helpful Tools

Whether you’re looking to lease a piece of property or you’re surveying the perimeters of neighboring properties, we’ve got a thorough map resource for you to use. Before you get too deep, though, check out the tutorial and overview below to learn more about the layout of the map.

View GIS Map

Next Steps

Now that you’ve soaked up all the info you can about the world of Alabama oyster farming, it’s time to get started with the paperwork. But don’t worry; we’ve broken it down form by form to make the process easy and organized.

Permit Guide