Why Texas Oyster Aquaculture?
The Texas oyster industry has been struggling and is desperate for change. Overfishing coupled with natural and man-made disasters have significantly impacted oyster supplies in Texas waters. Oyster aquaculture has the potential to satisfy oyster demand in the state and offer new economic opportunities to once thriving coastal communities.
What is Oyster Aquaculture?
Oyster aquaculture involves obtaining a small number of adult oysters from natural waters, spawning the oysters in land-based hatchery, and growing them to market size in cages or bags in the natural waters. Oysters can be grown in cages sitting just off the bottom, suspended in cages in the water column, or in floating cages. With the passing of HB1300 and SB682, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commission now has the authority to establish rules and regulations to guide development of this industry. Of huge interest to farmers is the rapid growth rate anticipated for oysters planted in Texas waters — up to twice as fast as those in northern states due to warmer conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. Prospective farmers must carefully evaluate oyster aquaculture sites to ensure provision of all inputs needed for good growth and survival. Factors such as salinity, availability of phytoplankton, and presence of disease can make a big difference in growth and survival and the overall success of the operation.
What are the Benefits of Oyster Aquaculture?
The increased economic benefit associated with oyster aquaculture is largely due to its almost exclusive production of half-shell oysters. It also has strong potential for improvement of oyster traits such as salinity tolerance, flavor and more through genetic breeding programs. At present, scientists at the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and Texas A&M AgriLife Research are working on developing a research program and site selection models, environmental and genetic impacts, farming and reef restoration methods, and cost analyses of production to better inform the state and help get this new industry to take off running.
What is the Timeline for Oyster Aquaculture in Texas?
- Legislation: With the recent approval of HB1300 allowing cultivated oyster mariculture in Texas and SB682 allowing penalties relating to cultivated oyster mariculture, authored by Rep. Todd Hunter (District 32) and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (District 18), respectively, oyster farming is now legal. Texas was the last remaining coastal state that did not allow oyster aquaculture, a practice long-established in other states where it has stabilized oyster supplies and reduced fishing pressure on natural oyster reefs.
- Permitting: As with other states that practice oyster aquaculture, permits will be required before aquaculture can begin. Currently, the permitting process is being developed in the regulations and will be governed by state and federal agencies. The exact date of the permit regulations has not been released yet.
- Production Timeline: (see PDF here) This is not related to the actual production of an oyster, but rather when production could be taking place according to the development of the rules and regulations guiding aquaculture.
(image credit: Lillian Jean Photography)
To learn more about oyster aquaculture visit the below sites: