Alabama can­cels oys­ter sea­son cit­ing short­age

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OBITUARIES -

MO­BILE, Ala. — There won’t be an oys­ter sea­son on the Alabama coast in the coming year, an un­usual move caused by what of­fi­cials say is a lack of oys­ters in state waters. re­ported Thurs­day that an of­fi­cial with the state con­ser­va­tion agency an­nounced the de­ci­sion dur­ing a meet­ing with seafood har­vesters and deal­ers in south­ern Mo­bile County.

Oys­ter sea­sons have been closed in past years be­cause of dis­as­ters in­clud­ing hur­ri­canes or the BP oil spill in 2010, and the num­ber of oys­ter boats work­ing the area has been in de­cline. But Scott Ban­non, di­rec­tor of the Marine Re­sources Divi­sion, said this year marked the first time there won’t be a sea­son be­cause of a lack of oys­ters.

A week­long sea­son last year pro­duced only 136 sacks of oys­ters, down from 7,000 sacks in 2013, he said.

The move means wild oys­ters won’t be har­vested from state waters un­til at least the fall of 2019. The de­ci­sion doesn’t af­fect oys­ter-farm­ing op­er­a­tions.

Con­ser­va­tion of­fi­cials make ex­ploratory dives to de­ter­mine how many young oys­ters are present on reefs, and a check this year showed only 112 3-inch oys­ters per acre in Heron Bay, less than half the num­ber from 2017.

It’s un­clear what has caused a de­cline. Ja­son Her­rmann, a Marine Re­sources bi­ol­o­gist, said 2017 brought ex­tended pe­ri­ods of low oxy­gen and low salin­ity in coastal waters, mak­ing last year dis­as­trous for young oys­ters, called spat. A spat wipe­out in one year means few grow­ing oys­ters in the next.

Among oys­ter har­vesters, the­o­ries vary about what has caused the de­cline. Some point at de­vel­op­ment along the rivers that feed Mo­bile Bay, some at agri­cul­tural runoff, some at the dis­posal of dredge ma­te­rial from work to deepen Mo­bile’s ship chan­nel.

“To me it’s a cul­mi­na­tion of a lot of things that hap­pened,” said Mayor Terry Downey of Bayou La Ba­tre, a seafood pro­cess­ing hub.

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