MOBILE COUNTY, Ala. (WALA) - Some local researchers FOX10 told you about in 2012 are making new waves with oyster farming.
High-end oyster farming is becoming the new "food fad" for gourmet seafood.
It's called "off-bottom" oyster farming, and researchers with LSU and Auburn University are spearheading the movement for the Gulf Coast.
In 2012, this was just beginning to take off in the restaurant industry, and now, several local independent companies are beginning to invest in this specialty market.
For the last few years, Auburn University researchers based at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab have been perfecting this new kind of oyster farming, which has been catching on across the country.
"What sort of spawned this was we saw that folks on the east coast and the west coast are doing this, and the people who are producing those oysters are making good money on those oysters,” said Bill Walton, assistant professor at the Auburn University College of Agriculture.
So how does the process work?
Adult oysters are gathered from the Bay and Mississippi Sound, then brought to the lab to breed.
Once they have spawned, the microscopic larvae are monitored until they attach to shells and become seed.
From there, the oysters slowly grow from the size of a grain of fine sand to a full adult.
These oysters were not intended to be sent to the shucking house. Rather, they were designed specifically to be sold to upscale, gourmet restaurants looking for smooth, clean oysters to serve on the half-shell.
"We have some of the best oysters in the world,” said Walton. “By doing it this way, you start to give them that brand name that starts to get you in some of those restaurants that are looking for very fancy oysters."
The Organized Seafood Association of Alabama recently joined the movement to help the industry come out of its shell.
"This is a new thing for Alabama, it just got started and is getting off the ground,” said Rosa Zirlott with the Association. “So it's really exciting to be a part of something new, and it's another way for us to grow the industry in a different method."
The oysters are being sold to restaurants in Nashville, Birmingham, and other cities across the southeast.
Some of the oysters have already made their way to local plates, including the Grand Hotel.
"It's actually been quite amazing the results they've been able to produce,” said Grand Hotel Food and Beverage Director Mike Herzog. "We're excited about it because it's a local product, it's close by, and I think it's going to grow."
However, not everyone agrees with these new additions to the oyster market.
FOX10 has spoken with a representative of a local, independently owned seafood company, who says it believes public universities and taxpayer dollars that fund some of this research should stay out of the oyster business.
FOX10 will continue to follow the story, and keep you updated on local response to this new, specialty market.
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