One way of protecting both oysters and oyster eaters is through routine reef closures, an occasional but normal occurrence in the seafood industry.
“When you see a closure, it doesn’t mean that something’s necessarily wrong with the oysters,” Blankenship said. “It could be for multiple reasons that reefs close and open.”
Because oysters are often consumed raw, the Alabama Department of Public Health has a protocol in place for any time runoff from several inches of rain might contaminate oyster reefs, according to Marine Resource Division Director and Program Administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission Chris Blankenship.
Oyster Closures also come from overharvesting. Last year, the Fowl River oyster reef opened for the first time in 40 years and closed just days later to protect the remaining harvest.
“We hoped it would be open for a month. We didn’t know how many boats would show up,” Blankenship told al.com last fall. “The reef’s not gone. But they caught a substantial amount of the legal oysters off of it. We’re closing it and moving the catchers to a different area before it is completely depleted.”
In 2005 and 2006, drought years caused an increased saltwater intrusion into estuaries and rivers that creates conditions for an oyster drill – a tiny snail capable of drilling a hole in an oyster’s shell and killing it.
“This just ensures that if you see oysters in the restaurant or in the store, you can rest assured that they came from waters that were tested and determined to be clean,” Blankenship said.