Bill Walton, a former Cape Cod oyster farmer who since 2009 has been an Auburn University assistant professor of fisheries and Alabama Cooperative Extension System fisheries specialist at the Auburn Shellfish Lab on Dauphin Island, is one of seven individuals tapped by Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley to serve on the newly established Alabama Shellfish Aquaculture Review Board.
The Alabama Legislature created the board during its 2013 regular session and charged it with developing a state shellfish aquaculture policy and implementing a sustainable program for leasing land in Alabama’s coastal waters for oyster farming.
“The legislation’s goal is to expand the off-bottom oyster farming industry in Alabama,” Walton says. “It will help create environmentally friendly jobs that keep people working on the water and add to the traditional oyster industry.”
Walton was appointed as the board’s Extension representative. Other board members include two industry representatives and the heads of the Alabama departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, Agriculture and Industries, Environmental Management and Public Health.
Extension Director Gary Lemme says Walton’s appointment ensures that the board will have the technical expertise it needs.
“Dr. Walton has done extensive research in oyster farming and has the knowledge the board will need,” says Lemme. “Bill is already working with producers who are raising oysters in off-bottom methods.”
Off-bottom farmed oysters are raised suspended above the sea floor. Though there are several options for this process, Walton uses mesh bags that hang from lines. Raising the oysters in the bags above the ocean floor keeps the mollusks sheltered from predators, which increases survival rates, and protects the oysters from what’s known as fouling—damage from aquatic organisms such algae and barnacles. Off-bottom culture typically improves oyster shell shape and overall appearance and increases product consistency.
The new review board will establish a streamlined program for leasing submerged land off the coast for the purposes of oyster culture so that leases can be issued as promptly as possible. The new leasing program will be administered by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.