You read that right. Alabama serves as historically the largest processor of oysters in the United States. Impressed? You should be!
Oysters tend to grow in multiples along the Gulf Coast’s 53-mile stretch. Our warm Southern waters give Gulf oysters a softer consistency – along with a sweeter flavor – than those found in the northern U.S. The Eastern Oyster, or Crassostrea virginica – which is the only kind of oysters Alabamians catch, sell and eat – live on reefs in waters mixed by the Gulf’s saltiness and the fresh waters found in Alabama bays and rivers, a combination of which ultimately allows the Eastern Oyster to survive and thrive. Since the 1880s, Alabama harvests have averaged over a million pounds each year, making oysters one of our state’s most valuable natural resources and a provider of priceless economic benefits that reach statewide.
With a rich bounty of oysters harvested and brought back to the Coast’s shores, it only makes sense for Alabama to utilize this abundance of resources not simply for eating (though we support that!) but also for research. The Yellowhammer State has several research labs dedicated to the study of both oyster farming and the oyster itself. One new research lab off the coast of Dauphin Island – located where the waters of Mobile Bay, Mississippi Sound and the Gulf of Mexico meet – features Auburn University faculty, staff and students conducting applied and basic research. At another lab, The Auburn University School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences (AUSL)is teaching and conducting research on the area of shellfish ecology – while also providing a hatchery and nursery for oysters. Other research-based organizations – such as the Alabama Oyster Aquaculture – provide insight into the environmental and economic benefits that come with farming and harvesting oysters in Alabama by teaching the art of oyster harvesting while enlightening others on just how many oyster farmers our state boasts.