How Alabama Gulf oysters are creating global sustainability

For many seafood lovers, the delicate, salty taste of an Alabama Gulf oyster is all they need to know to call it a favorite treat. But for Evan Webster, a lifelong oyster aficionado and seasoned farmer, oysters represent more than just a culinary delight; they symbolize an opportunity to have a positive impact on the Gulf’s waters and the world.

“We have this idea of wanting to make the world a better place,” remarked Webster, a recent Auburn University graduate and current managing partner of New Reef Oyster Company, an oyster farm in Coden.

“We’d like to create meaningful work for individuals. But the farm can do more than that.”

Jordan Berscheidt

Exactly what more can oyster farming do? According to Webster, oyster farming has several benefits for the environment, the most significant being its positive impact on the quality of Alabama Gulf waters.

Oysters are filter feeders, meaning they clean the water they inhabit. A single oyster can filter nearly 50 gallons each day, as well as filter out much of the algae in the water, resulting in cleaner and clearer water that is more enjoyable for people to work, recreate and even consume. They also are known to sequester carbon, just as trees do.

Improved water quality isn’t the only thing oysters are good for. From an ecosystem perspective, wild oyster reefs are also able to create structures that protect smaller fish from predators. They effectively secure the shoreline, prevent erosion, reduce turbidity and allow seagrass to grow on the ocean’s floor.

“It really is a cornerstone of our intertidal ecosystem,” Webster emphasized.

Oyster aquaculture sets itself apart from other farming operations due to its lack of pesticide, fertilizer or feed use. This means there is virtually no trace left behind by the operation—adding to the positive factors of this sustainable food.

Despite these sustainable attributes, Webster acknowledged that some practices in the industry still lag behind. “I’d like to believe that it’s the most sustainable industry available,” he shared, “But we still do use quite a bit of plastic gear.”

Plastic and metal are two materials that could negatively impact the environment if not properly used or disposed of. Nevertheless, Webster and his company are implementing measures to minimize pollution and their ecological footprint. New Reef Oyster Company is spearheading initiatives like minimizing plastic waste, producing more durable gear and reducing vehicle runtime to and from facilities.

In addition to these initiatives, the New Reef Oyster Company participates in cleaning efforts to preserve water quality.

Jordan Berscheidt

Jordan Berscheidt

“We spend a lot of time on the water, so we get to pick up all the litter and trash that gets washed in,” Webster shared. “That’s just a personal choice of ours. But we go out of our way to pick up any refuse that we find on our way to and from the farm site.”

By ordering Alabama Gulf oysters, diners support an industry committed to preserving stable oceans and fostering a cleaner, healthier Gulf. And Alabama Gulf oyster farmers, like Webster and New Reef Oyster Company, play an important role in helping create a better world to live in while bringing delicious oysters to the table.

While farms like Webster’s are still making strides to be more sustainable, oyster farming is a net positive. And for the Alabama Gulf, that means better fishing, cleaner water and an ecosystem that will enrich our coastal communities.

Jordan Berscheidt

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