Integrated program responsible for the creation of oyster farming industry in Alabama
The Gulf Coast oyster industry has suffered a number of setbacks, both natural and manmade, that are challenging an industry built around inexpensive, plentiful oysters. Off-bottom oyster farming for the high-value, half-shell niche market, as practiced on the northeast and Pacific coasts, provides an opportunity for Gulf residents to create jobs, increase profits and diversify the oyster industry.
Sea Grant-funded scientists established two large oyster farming parks that serve as platforms for training and business development, as part of a partnership between Louisiana Sea Grant, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium (MASGC), Auburn University, and Louisiana State University. The parks demonstrate grow-out and harvesting technology and techniques. Scientists also provided technical advice and evaluations of possible sites to potential oyster farmers. Along with scientists, Sea Grant legal specialists were integral in providing research to inform passage of state legislation that clarified and simplified the permitting process.
Nine new commercial oyster farms have been established in Alabama, with a total farm-gate value exceeding $825,000 to date, which is expected to more than double in 2015, increasing incomes and generation of local jobs (at least 6 full-time positions and over 10 part-time positions). At least 5 wholesalers in Alabama also profited from the sales of these oysters. Two new oyster equipment companies were established in Alabama, with total sales inception well over $100,000. Several applications for new commercial farms are pending the results of the governor’s review board mandated by Alabama HB 361 (on which Dr. Walton served). This work has also led the Gulf Oyster Industry Council to invite Dr. Walton to participate in their annual ‘Walk on the Hill’ in Washington, D.C. as a technical advisor on oyster farming since 2012. In partnership with Organized Seafood Association of Alabama (OSAA), MASGC has conducted a hands-on training program Oyster Farming Fundamentals, which has trained 16 adult students that have collectively raised 350,000 oyster seed, and developing a “vo-tech” program that trains high school students to be oyster farmers.
Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant research and outreach leads to development of commercial off-bottom oyster farming industry in Alabama that approaches $1 million per year. (2014)