Mobile Bay’s oyster areas are open to harvesting again after being closed for 24 days. Public oyster reefs, however, remain off limits as Alabama’s Marine Resources Division moves six million pounds of oysters to the nearly depleted White House reef south of Fowl River from one of the abundant reefs in upper Mobile Bay.
State biologists say the oyster relocation will put oystermen back to work harvesting and put more oysters on the market. Six million pounds of oysters in relocation means moving 100,000 sacks, each weighing 65 pounds.
The actual move took about ten days, and now state biologists are allowing the oysters to clean for 21 days. That means sometime early next week the relocated oysters will be ready for harvest.
Areas I, II, and III–virtually all of Mobile Bay that is not already prohibited or restricted–was closed to shellfish harvesting from March 16 to April 9, 2010 on the order of Dr. Donald Williamson, the state health officer.
The Alabama Department of Public Health monitors Mobile Bay waters and shellfish for bacteriological safety.
Vibrio infections from eating raw or undercooked shellfish that are contaminated have increased by 85 percent since the late 1990s, according to the Foodborne Disease Active Surveillance Network’s latest report.
Relocating oysters is not a new strategy. Alabama officials say its been done successfully in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. They expect the moving project will improve both reefs.
The $1.65 million required to pull off the oyster move was provided by the federal government as part of the $20 million in emergency disaster relief grant Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, obtained to restore Alabama’s oyster reefs.
Mobile Bay oysters have been marketed since the late 1880s, but production has fluctuated from year-to-year. Silt levels in the bay are greatly impacted by flooding and drought cycles, sometimes causing an increase in the number of natural predators.
Lately, oyster drills, salt-water snails that prey on sedentary shellfish, have decimated Mobile Bay oyster production. The harvest in 2005 was over one million pounds, but fell to just 73,000 pounds by 2008.
Photo: Pacific oysters