MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — Alabama officials have announced an earlier start for the upcoming oyster harvest that they hope will be even better than last season.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources approved a Monday start to the season after surveys to check whether Hurricane Sally damaged Mobile Bay reefs came up clear.
The opening applies to a zone in Heron Bay, west of the last piece of mainland before Alabama Highway 193 crosses open water to Dauphin Island. Starting Monday it will be open for weekday harvest from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. Additionally, harvesting will be allowed from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays from Oct. 17 through Nov. 7, al.com reported.
“Prior to Hurricane Sally, we surveyed the public oyster bottoms and discovered they showed a potential for harvest that exceeded the previous season,” said Scott Bannon, director of the department’s Marine Resources Division. “We still have some concerns about the hurricane’s impact on the bottoms, but sample trips after Sally made landfall leave us feeling optimistic that catchers could have a better season than in recent years.”
In fall 2018, the Marine Resources Division decided to not open the 2018-2019 season. Following a year or two of water conditions unfavorable for larval and juvenile oysters, there simply weren’t enough mature oysters out there to justify it, officials said. A new season opened in November 2019 and the final tally of 11,258 sacks was the best harvest since 2013-2014.
The latest decision to open much earlier than in 2019 was driven in part by an anticipated Nov. 1 season opening in Texas. Bannon said Alabama officials wanted to give local harvesters “an opportunity to get a high-value product to market.”
He said the COVID-19 pandemic has made demand difficult to predict. The restaurant business has been hard-hit by shutdowns and capacity limits.
“Nationally, I think there’s concern,” he said. “It’s not a normal year. I may not know what normal is, but I know this is abnormal.”
The department hasn’t specified a projected end date for the season. It also hasn’t ruled out opening additional zones. Decisions will be based on evaluations by Marine Resources Division staff.
The six-sack daily limit applies to commercial harvesters, who are required to have a commercial license. Recreational harvesters can collect 100 legal-size oysters per day but are limited to the same areas and hours open for commercial harvest.
The limits apply to wild oysters, not to oyster farming operations.