Beginning in June, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium partnered with the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Alma Bryant High School (Irvington, Alabama), Alabama Cooperative Extension System, Dauphin Island Sea Lab and Auburn University, to offer the third iteration of Oyster Farming Fundamentals. This hands-on class, focused on the practical training and knowledge needed to successfully permit and operate an off-bottom oyster farm, includes 11 adults from Alabama, five adults from Mississippi and two high-school students from Alma Bryant High School.
The class will provide these students the opportunity to learn about growing methods, gear types, site selection, public health requirements, marketing, business planning and other essential elements, while also getting practical, hands-on experience, assembling gear, working in the Auburn University Shellfish Lab and caring for seed. The cornerstone of the course, though, is that each student will be provided 10,000 oyster seed (juvenile oysters about the size of a shirt button) to raise within a dedicated training area within the Grand Bay Oyster Park.
At the park (think “business park for oyster farmers”), each farmer will be loaned a 100-yard “run” of oyster farming gear to raise those seed in the rich, productive waters of Grand Bay. While they will continue to get advice and input, each farmer will have the opportunity to make their own decisions about how to raise the oysters.
As the oysters grow, the students will be making decisions – both about how to care for their seed and if they want to forge ahead as commercial oyster farmers.
Some may decide this is not for them – and that’s OK. It’s actually good to help people decide to not pursue something.
Others will opt to go out to permit and run their own farm somewhere. Others may decide to work within an oyster farming park, and invest in and operate a farm there. As they move forward, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium will continue to assist them with questions and challenges they may have.
Any new farms will add to the exciting growth in this new "industry" in our coastal communities. In 2016, for example, the 13 oyster farms in Alabama harvested at least 2.7 million oysters, with a farm gate value of $1.96 million, with 20 full-time employees and 10 part-time employees at work. With new farmers coming in and many current farmers looking to expand their operations, this industry is positioned to grow, providing amazing oysters to the public from environmentally-friendly farms while creating jobs and preserving traditions in our coastal communities in Alabama and Mississippi.