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 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
If you want to harvest your own oysters, you’ll need to find a good hatchery. 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. For on-bottom farmers, the larvae are actually spawned at the nursery.
There are only two university oyster hatcheries in the northern Gulf of Mexico, and one of them happens to be in Alabama—the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island.Visit Lab
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.
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.
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 Opportunities
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.)
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