[T]the vanguard of farmed Gulf oysters represents both a re-making of the supply chain, and also something like a culinary re-invention. Bill Walton, an associate professor at the Auburn University School of Fisheries who worked with shellfish in the northeast before moving to Alabama, started seeing more interest in farmed Gulf oysters among commercial oyster companies and restaurants after 2009.
Walton took a combination of techniques and gear common in Canada and Australia and helped develop new approaches to Gulf oysters, which spurred farmed populations in the Gulf; since 2009, 13 oyster farms, two gear suppliers, and an oyster nursery have opened in Alabama alone.
The model adopted in Alabama is spreading throughout the region. As Rackley explains it: “Alabama was out in front, but Florida is about to explode.” The Wakulla Environmental Institute has been training and helping outfit a wave of new oyster farmers in Apalachee Bay, just east of the much-storied oyster beds of Apalachicola. In Louisiana, a cluster of oyster farms in Grand Isle are doing much the same.
The results in the coming years could be a re-imagining of what a Gulf Oyster means, in terms of both the production chain and the final oyster on the plate. Further, if the growing abundance of farmed oysters can relieve the pressure of demand, those wild populations of big, meaty Gulf oysters could have a chance to recover. Everyone wins.