MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) – The Alabama Department of Natural Resources Marine Resource Division is responsible for managing oyster beds in and around Mobile Bay. Doing so takes a lot of time and effort before, during and after the oyster season. 

“We want to have a sustainable fishery and have oysters for years and years to come for your kids and grandkids,” says Jason Herrmann, a biologist with Alabama Marine Resources Division.

Before the season starts, marine biologists grab their scuba gear to check the status of the oyster reefs. They get a rough count of the oysters on the reefs and come up with a flexible harvest goal. This is the rough number of oysters that can be harvested while leaving enough behind to be able to reproduce for next year. 

Once the harvest starts, the AMRD stays busy going on their boats to check on the oystermen and the quality of the oyster. On land, the agency documents detailed information from the harvesters at the end of each day. They record how many sacks were taken, where the harvesters are taking them, and how long they were out fishing at each reef. The AMRD also makes sure they know exactly which reef each sack came from.

Herrmann explains, “If somebody eats a bad oyster, you can kind of track it back from the dealer to the reef and anywhere in between.” There is also a one hour time limit from reef to dealer to limit bacteria growth to keep oysters safe for eating. Next stop, your table!

The AMRD explains that they take detailed information from harvesters each day to also get an idea of when to close small parts of the reefs and eventually the season as a whole. They operate on a grid system, dividing the reef waters into 500 meter by 500 meter grid points. Once the harvest goal is met in a certain grid point, that area is closed to harvesters. 

The state and the folks who make their living on the water don’t always agree on the decisions made about season dates and the limit of how many sacks of oysters can be taken; however, the AMRD says, they’re goal is to keep the waters open as long as possible while protecting the resource and ensuring a successful harvest this season and in years to come.

At the end of the season, research projects are underway to keep the oyster reefs healthy and flourishing.