MOBILE, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's oyster industry has had its best wild harvest in years, more than doubling the catch from 2020 with the opening of a new territory in Mobile Bay.
Scott Bannon, head of the Marine Resources Division of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, told al.com that the total haul was about 45,000 sacks of oysters at the end of the day on Tuesday compared to 22,070 sacks last season.
"That's about $3 million-plus to the catchers. So it's been a phenomenal season, more than double our harvest from last year," he said.
Still, this year's catch is only a fraction of historical harvests from the middle part of the 20th century, when healthy oyster reefs remained in the upper part of Mobile Bay. Those numbers steadily declined from the 1950s onward and crashed after 2000, with the state unable to have an oyster season in 2018-2019 because of a lack of mature oysters.
This year's wild oyster season opened Oct. 4, and an ending date hasn't been set yet.
Marine Resources officials told oyster harvesters before this season that they expected this year to be about the same as last year based on preliminary surveys. But a new area that was opened for harvest proved fertile.
"There's a lot of uncharted territory on the east," said Bannon. "We haven't harvested on that in a long time and they're really doing well. They're turning a lot of bottom, they're harvesting some great oysters. We're seeing a lot of good stuff out there."
Refinements to a grid system that helps oyster boats know which areas have been worked thoroughly also helped with the harvest, he said.