ROCKPORT, Texas — Texas is know for its vast expanse of agriculture, leading the nation in number farms and ranches. However, those in the Lone Star State are coming out of their shells and pursuing an endeavor that is relatively new to Texas.
The Cultivated Oyster Mariculture Program has been aiding the state in expanding its farming industry from the land to the sea.
Oyster farming is not a new concept, but in 2019 Texas became one of the last coastal states in the U.S. to allow oyster mariculture. In 2020, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) started accepting applications for the program.
According to TPW, there is a two step process to get approved to operate an oyster farm. A interested party would have to get a conditional permit which involves a site evaluation and review of an application. To get a final permit, they would have to get authorization from other agencies as well.
There are seven people in the conditional permit phase, waiting to get authorization. Texas has five fully permitted oyster farms. Four have oysters in the water and three are approved for harvesting and production.
On the second to last week of June, the Blackjack Point Oyster Company became the fourth organization to have oysters in the water. A.J. Minns, the company's owner, said he did a lot of research before pursuing the endeavor. After about two decades in the marine transportation industry, he retired but wanted to find another way to be out at sea and still have time to spend with his wife Debbie.
"I grew up working on the water. My father was a commercial fisherman. So, working in the water has always been in my blood," he said. "(My wife has) been very supportive and excited. This is actually the first business idea that I've come up with that's she's actually on board with."
The Rockport residents are now the first to plant an oyster farm in Aransas Bay. They, along with supporters, scooped and secured about 275,000 oyster seeds into mesh bags before shipping them off to their new home. However, Minns said the work doesn't stop there.
"I wish it were that easy," he said. "It's like any babies, we call them babies, the seed. They need constant attention. We'll probably be out checking on them making sure the bags are clean, making sure everything is working properly."
Minns said the oyster grow rapidly, so they'll be using more floating cages to give them room. It could take about seven to nine months for oysters to be ready for harvest.
"Once we get certification from the health department, we can process our own oysters and hopefully sell them to restaurants for locals and tourists to enjoy."
Experts said farmed oysters aren't going to replace wild oysters. However, they could relieve some of the harvesting pressure and provide a different option for oyster harvesters.
Farmed oysters are also known to have the same natural benefits as wild oysters, like improving water quality. Minns also said the economy could benefit as well.
"I'm going to be hiring help," he said. "And if you're providing a locally available seafood product to the restaurants it could bring tourism into town. And in other parts of the country it's even become an eco-tourism opportunity for oyster farmers because a lot of people are just interested in going out into the water and seeing how it all operates."
Minns is optimistic about the opportunity to operate his own oyster farm. He said an overwhelming amount of support has encouraged him to go far in this endeavor.
"It's also inspiring to see how wide a group of people that are supportive and interested to see this succeed not just in us as a company but statewide." he said.