Researchers at the Texas A&M University System soon could be developing a Texas A&M-branded oyster that consumers will be able to order on the half-shell at their favorite seafood restaurant.
“We could even make a maroon one, if we wanted to,” said Joe Fox, HRI Chair of Marine Resource Development at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and a jointly appointed research scientist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research.
“By spawning oysters in the lab from different bays, we can produce seed stock that are ultimately grown out in cages, yielding a consistently attractive and high-quality oyster for you to enjoy at the raw bar,” Fox said. “From there on, it’s all about the branding.”
Farming oysters in off-bottom cages allows for their harvest without destroying ecologically valuable oyster reefs. Overfishing, freshwater intrusion and hurricanes — which cover oyster reefs in sand and mud — have reduced traditional oyster harvests off the Texas coast by 43% over the past four years.
Meanwhile, oyster aquaculture off the coasts of Florida, Alabama, Louisiana and other states brings more than $200 million each year.
“Practical research with real-world impact is the hallmark of The Texas A&M University System,” said Chancellor John Sharp. “Dr. Fox’s research is creating an entirely new and sustainable industry for the Texas Coast, producing jobs and improving the quality of Texas oysters.”
Fox worked with state Rep. Todd Hunter and Corpus Christi restaurant owner Brad Lomax to make oyster farming legal in Texas — the last state along the Gulf Coast to do so. By September, tens of thousands of acres of shallow water along the Texas Coast will be available for commercial oyster aquiculture.
Fox’s work was funded, in part, by a Chancellor’s Research Initiative grant through the Texas A&M University System. Fox and his team are working to develop a breeding program for Texas oysters to improve salinity tolerance, disease resistance and other desirable traits. They will also provide oyster hatchery and farm training for those willing to invest in the new industry.
Spawning oysters in the lab will be key to providing consistent seed stock for future oyster farmers. Dr. Hugo Magaña, an AgriLife Research associate research scientist working at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research Mariculture Laboratory in Flour Bluff, recently succeeded in spawning oysters for the first time in 27 years in Texas. Magaña started with about 200 oysters from Copano Bay, selected for their appearance.