Why Texas Oyster Aquaculture?
The Texas oyster industry has been struggling and is in need of a change. Overfishing coupled with natural and man-made disasters have significantly impacted oyster supplies in Texas waters. Oyster aquaculture provides ecosystem services, 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 adult oysters from natural waters, spawning the oysters in land-based hatcheries, 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 House Bill 1300 and Senate Bill 682, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Commission has established the 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. Scientists at the Harte Research Institute are developing a research program consisting of 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 running.
What is the Timeline for Oyster Aquaculture in Texas?
- Legislation: HB1300 and SB682 became effective September 1, 2019, allowing cultivated oyster mariculture in Texas, authored by Rep. Todd Hunter (District 32) and Sen. Lois Kolkhorst (District 18). 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: Permits are now available and are being issued as of Fall 2021. Regulations are governed by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, see link to current permitting guidance: