Mobile Bay Oyster Gardening Program volunteers in Alabama this year grew more than 59,000 oysters. The oysters were planted on restoration sites in Mobile Bay, where they will help filter water and provide habitat for a variety of estuarine organisms.
While oyster growth in the 2008 program was slow, the survival was better than anticipated, thanks to the volunteers who cleaned algae, mud and other fouling from the cages each week.
Program participants had a better harvest than usual, according to Extension Specialist P.J. Waters of Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and the Alabama Cooperative Extension System, who works with program volunteers.
“Thirty-four volunteers each grew an average of more than 1,700 oysters,” he said.
Volunteers usually grow around 1,000 oysters during the season, which runs from June/July to the end of November, Waters said.
Oyster gardeners grow oysters off wharves in locations classified as conditionally open for shellfish harvesting. The volunteers receive juvenile oysters (also known as spat) set on whole shell from the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory. They place the oyster spat in special cages at the beginning of the summer and hang them from piers in the middle of the water column. Oysters are held off the bottom to help water flow through the cage and bring needed food while protecting them from predators, such as blue crabs and oyster drills.
There are ongoing plans to try to extend the growing season for gardeners where possible to increase the size of the oysters ultimately planted on the restoration reef sites, Waters said.
The Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Mobile Bay National Estuary Program, Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University Shellfish Lab sponsor the program.
For more information, contact Waters at the Auburn Marine Center at 251-438-5690.