Compared to the traditional tonging method of oyster harvesting in Alabama, farmed oysters present a unique opportunity to capitalize on a growing market without facing a high degree of risk.
Farm-raised oysters are still a relatively new commodity in the Gulf of Mexico—in fact, just as recently as 2009, there wasn’t a single oyster farm in Alabama. Now, thanks to an increasing demand for a premium product, there are 18 Alabama oyster farms currently in operation with new farms in the works. Seafood restaurants and oyster bars throughout the state and beyond are featuring these boutique oysters on their menus, and food enthusiasts at every level are enjoy the surplus of local product.
While starting your own oyster farm does involve a significant investment in terms of time and money, there are plenty of success stories to model your business after. Check out our List of Operating Farms to learn more about the state of Alabama’s farmed oyster industry.
Beyond the business opportunities that come with starting your own oyster farm, it’s good for the ecosystems of Coastal Alabama.
In fact, oysters are considered to be a “keystone species” for our waterways. Oysters help to improve the water quality in our bays by feeding on excess phytoplankton. Additionally, the presence of additional on-bottom oyster farms creates new artificial reefs, which are beneficial to a number of aquatic species.
The Eastern Oyster—also known as the Virginia Oyster, Wellfleet Oyster, Atlantic Oyster, or simply American Oyster—is the species that we harvest here in the Gulf of Mexico.
As you might infer from the name, the Eastern Oyster is very popular, especially along the Atlantic Coast and Gulf Coast. While they’re all the same species, their size, appearance, flavor, and consistency can vary noticeably based on where the oysters are produced.
And if you’re wondering about pearls—well, the Eastern Oyster can produce small pearls, but they’re not significant in size and therefore have no commercial value. Sorry, folks.
For more about the biology and history of the Eastern Oyster, visit Alabama Gulf Seafood.Alabama Gulf Seafood
You may have heard the old saying that oysters are only good in months with an “r” in them, i.e. September through April. Thankfully for us, that’s simply not the case.
What has become more of a myth is rooted in reality, though—but the origin dates back to pre-refrigeration days when transporting product like oysters was much more difficult. Now that modern technology allows to ship Alabama oysters all over, we can enjoy them all year round.
The other reason this saying persists is the threat of the vibrio bacteria, which is something to be aware of but not overly concerned about. For more information on vibrio, check out our Safety section. For more information on vibrio, check out our Safety section.
Gulf oysters come in all shapes, sizes, and flavors—likewise, there are many ways you can prepare oysters to your liking.
The traditional method? Raw, right out of the half shell. This is the purest way to eat Gulf oysters, as you’ll get an unfiltered taste of the flavor profile of the oysters. But many folks like to add a saltine, some horseradish, and a dash of hot sauce.
Fried oysters are quite popular in the Gulf as well. Whether they’re served on a fried seafood platter with shrimp and fish or stuffed into a section of French bread for a classic po’ boy, you’re in for a treat—just make sure to go easy on the breading.
When the weather’s warm (or warm enough), try grilling oysters on the half-shell with a few extra seasonings. When the weather’s cold (or just a bit chilly), a hearty oyster stew is a simple but delicious recipe to try. And if you’re gathering for a party or a family event, scalloped oysters and oyster stuffing will be a big hit in a crowd.
Thanks to a mixture of salt water from the Gulf Coast and freshwater from our bays and rivers, Alabama oysters are in an environment where they can thrive.
But even though our coastline is a small one, the flavor profiles of Alabama oysters can vary a great deal. In fact, oysters from the same bay can vary in size, appearance, salinity, and taste. Plus, depending on seasons, weather, and other factors like rainfall, characteristics of these oysters can vary even more.
To learn more about Alabama’s oyster ecosystems, take a look at The Eastern Oyster: The Reef Builders of Estuaries
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Dorothy Teague Lawley