Texas A&M University System researchers are working to farm oysters off the Texas coast using cages. 

Overfishing, freshwater intrusion and hurricanes have caused a 43% reduction of oyster harvests in the past four years, according to an A&M press release. Oyster farming with off-bottom cages can mean that harvesting won’t destroy existing oyster reefs. 

“It’s a real exciting venture for the Texas A&M University System that is going to create an entirely new industry for the Gulf Coast,” Texas A&M System Chancellor John Sharp said in a YouTube video.

Joe Fox, HRI chair of Marine Resource Development at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi’s Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies, is working on making Texas oysters a reality. Fox is also 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 in a press release. “From there on, it’s all about the branding.”

Fox’s work has included making oyster farming legal in Texas with the help of state Rep. Todd Hunter and Corpus Christi restaurant owner Brad Lomax. Texas is the last state along the Gulf Coast to legalize oyster farming. A&M’s press release said that by September, there will be tens of thousands of acres available for commercial oyster aquaculture. 

“What we want to make happen here is that a Texas resident can walk into a Texas restaurant and buy Texas oysters whenever they want,” Fox said in an A&M System YouTube video.

Now, Fox and others are creating a breeding program for Texas oysters so they can have better qualities, such as salinity tolerance and disease resistance. 

In June, AgriLife Research associate research scientist Hugo Magaña spawned oysters in a lab. This was the first time in nearly 30 years that someone in the state accomplished the feat of artificially spawning oysters. 

In an A&M System YouTube video, Magaña said that creating a product that looks appetizing is an important part of the job.

“Here we are producing something that is appealing to the eye and very tasty to the palate,” he said.

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