State opens permitting process for oyster farming

Texas Game Wardens check a harvest of wild oysters in the Gulf of Mexico. As early as the end of this year, farm-raised oysters could be for sale in Valley seafood markets. (Earl Nottingham/TPWD).

HARLINGEN — Oyster farmers, start your boat engines.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department officials have opened up the permit application process for off-bottom oyster farms, making Texas one of the last coastal states to allow this type of mariculture.

“ With natural oyster reefs along the gulf coast struggling from hurricanes, flooding and overharvest, oyster mariculture has become the answer for many people harvesting oysters in the Gulf of Mexico,” a TPWD statement reads. “Due to the high demand from restaurants and the public, mariculture that includes off-bottom cage culture of oysters has gained popularity throughout the United States.”

Oyster operations need not be as extensive as, say, a land-based farm growing row crops. A workable oyster farm can be as small as an acre, or an acre and a half.

But where it should or can be sited is a priority for TPWD. Some areas, like gas pipeline corridors or active oil and gas leases, are probably going to be off-limits for oyster farms.

In 2019 the Texas Legislature directed TPWD to develop an oyster mariculture program using cages to grow oysters. These floating or suspended cages typically allow oysters to grow faster than wild oysters.

“ While we don’t expect oyster mariculture to replace wild harvest, this program should provide an opportunity for growers to produce a high-quality product destined for the raw, half-shell market,” said Lance Robinson, Coastal Fisheries Division deputy director.

“ And, in doing so, the bays will benefit from the additional water filtration that oysters provide,” Robinson added. “We look forward to working with the public to help create successful oyster mariculture operations in Texas.”

rkelley@valleystar.com