By Pamela Cody
Special to the PRESS
Marine experts and oyster enthusiasts gathered at the Coastal Studies Lab at Isla Blanca Park on South Padre Island last Saturday morning, to discuss recent legislation and offer a presentation about the business of oyster farming.
Dr. Tony Reisinger, Cameron County Extension Agent with the Coastal and Marine Resources of Texas Sea Grant at Texas A&m Agrilife Extension, started the presentation by informing the audience that the Texas Legislature recently passed House Bill 1300 and Senate Bill 682, making it legal to farm oysters in the state of Texas. The cultivated oyster mariculture will be overseen by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and will commence in the fall of 2020.
Reisinger explained the initial process of beginning an oyster farm in Texas waters, saying “These will be a species of oyster known as the Eastern Oyster and must be at least 3 inches or larger in size in order to be harvested.”
In order to “grow” an oyster, what is known as oyster broodstock is introduced at a hatchery, spawned, then provided a surface on which to adhere and begin developing. Challenges such as floods, storms, red tide, poaching, disease and predator fish can occur, but with proper attention and feeding of microalgae, oysters can develop and grow to sellable size in the warm waters of Texas in as little as eight months, as compared to up to two years in colder waters.
Reisinger touted the benefits, noting “There is an increased water quality and increased sport fishing and job opportunities with oyster farming – fish like to hang out around oyster beds.” Reisinger’s PowerPoint illustrated that oyster farming is currently practiced in all other coastal states and is a $280 million dollar industry in the U.S., employing around 8,000 across the country.
Also according to Reisinger’s presentation, the ecological benefits include nitrogen and phosphates removed from ocean water, protection against shoreline erosion, and habitat for economically important marine species.
Dr. Joe Fox, of Texas A&M University- Corpus Christi, also contributed to the presentation, giving a detailed account on the different types of oyster farming that can be utilized.
Fox has been involved in aquaculture since 1978 and has been responsible for the planning and development of aquaculture production facilities in Central America, Southeast Asia, South America, and the Caribbean. He currently serves as chair for Marine Resource Development at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico studies.
Stating that “You can’t have an industry unless you have a hatchery,” Fox outlined the three types of oyster farming, namely off-bottom, mid-column, and floating cultures, and explained the advantages and disadvantages of each method. If operated and maintained properly, an oyster farm could potentially bring in a gross income ranging from $72 – $97,000 per acre per year.
Fox and his colleague, geneticist Dr. Chris Hollenbeck, are focusing on developing an oyster breeding program at Agrilife’s Flour Bluff Mariculture Research Facility, working towards oysters that have salinity tolerance and are disease resistant.
Fox pointed out that there is a process to be able to start an oyster farm. “To make money, you need at least three acres. It’s expensive and takes lots of effort, with the cost per acre being between $35 – $40,000 that will yield 100 to 700 oysters per acre.”
For those interested in starting an oyster farm, Fox offered some advice.
“If you want to do oyster aquaculture, you have to have an idea of an area you’re interested in, go through the process of application, get your permit, and substantiate to the regulatory groups that have purview over issuing you a permit that your site is suitable and appropriate.”