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Photo of Bill Walton (AU)

Members working on the Off-Bottom Oyster Farming program pose with their award.

Off-Bottom Oyster Farming — Group

Auburn University, Dauphin Island, AL 

The Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory team, in conjunction with the Alabama Cooperative Extension, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, and the Organized Seafood Association of Alabama (OSAA), has produced innovative and foundational work for the development of off-bottom oyster farming in the Gulf of Mexico. The benefits derived from developing this market not only help to protect the integrity of marine systems, but also provide opportunities for economic and culturally-consistent development of the communities along the Gulf Coast. By working collaboratively to advance the science, training, and practice of off-bottom oyster farming in the Gulf, the Shellfish Laboratory team demonstrates the win-win results generated when pursuing sustainability.

To help invigorate and disseminate this sustainable commercial oystering method, the team has worked closely with not only its partners, but also city, state, and federal agencies; local educational institutions; and the farmers themselves. They’re successes include securing millions in grant funding to provide the economic and aquaculture studies, as well as training, needed by farmers and others in the industry to help facilitate the adoption of this blue-green method of oystering. In addition, the Shellfish Laboratory team has been able to provide a significant and steady supply of seed oysters for the farmers learning about and operating off-bottom oyster farms.

Beyond providing the research data and oyster stock, together the team has been able to train a number of farmers, who have gone on to start new commercial oyster farms in the Alabama region of the Gulf of Mexico with estimates of $200,000 in sales within a 6 month time period. In addition, the team has been instrumental in establishing a first of its kind program to train high school students in off-bottom oystering and processing methods through a vocational education program. They’ve also been pivotal in establishing a 60-acre aquaculture use zone in Portersville Bay and have smoothed the regulatory path for both new and expanding oyster farms. Together the efforts of the Shellfish Laboratory Team and its region-wide partnerships will continue to transform the landscapes and livelihoods of the Gulf Coast region toward a more sustainable future for generations to come.