Oyster Maricutlure in Texas - FAQs

General Information

Selling Oysters Grown in Mariculture

Mariculture Specifics

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General Information

What is the difference between oysters grown in mariculture and wild harvested oysters?
Oysters grown in mariculture operations rely on seed oysters produced in a hatchery and are often bred to be sterile which allows year-round harvest. The labor involved in growing oysters in mariculture creates cupped, single oysters while wild harvested oysters tend to be longer and clumped. 

Why allow oyster mariculture?
Oyster mariculture in a new enterprise and thus has a positive impact on the local economy including providing a unique culinary experience for consumers.  It is also generally accepted that shellfish aquaculture is a net benefit for the environment as they offer the same ecosystem services of wild oysters.  This includes the ability of a 3-inch oyster to filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.

What is the risk to the environment of oyster mariculture? Long-line vs floating cages? Other?
Regardless of the method, impacts of oyster mariculture operations on the marine environment in Texas coastal waters are not anticipated to be significant given the requirements for siting of these operations, securing the equipment and the many years these methods have been used around the world.   Oysters grown in mariculture operations rely on naturally occurring microalgae for growth.

Will the oyster mariculture infrastructure have impacts on coastal processes?
There will be minimal impacts within the footprint of the operation. Within the larger bay system, the supporting buoys, backbone and floating cages will have a degree of flexibility as they float on or near the water's surface. Waves will pass over and through this infrastructure with no significant alteration to wave processes.

Will oyster mariculture infrastructure have an adverse interaction with marine life? 
The latest longline and floating cage culture technologies, designs, and techniques can be employed to prevent adverse interactions with marine life. Mooring, anchor, and backbone ropes should be kept under tension to prevent marine life entanglement. These types of equipment have been used for decades in the United States and globally, and impacts on marine life, including sea turtles and mammals, has not been identified as a problem.

Will you be able to see these oyster mariculture operations from the shoreline? 
Though the infrastructure used in oyster mariculture operations have a low profile, these operations would be visible from the water or shoreline. Siting of these operations must take into consideration visual conflicts with adjacent property owners.

Who can harvest from an oyster mariculture permitted area?
Only the holder of the Cultivated Oyster Mariculture (COM) Permit for a specified area and those individuals identified by the permit holder and listed on the Sub-Permittee Authorization Form (PWD 1439A-V3400) are authorized to harvest from an oyster mariculture permitted area.

Will I be able to access the permitted area for recreational fishing? 
The equipment used in oyster mariculture operations and the oysters grown within these facilities is considered private property. For personal safety, recreational boaters and anglers should remain outside the immediate permitted area which will be delineated by navigational markers.  Adjacent oyster mariculture areas must be separated by a 50-foot access lane and transiting through an access lane must be at idle speed. At all times, boaters are expected to use caution and common sense when traversing mariculture operations. When in doubt, ask the oyster mariculture permittee or TPWD Law Enforcement.

Will the public have an opportunity to provide comments about an oyster mariculture site before it’s constructed?
Yes. Cultivated Oyster Mariculture applications will be posted on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s web site and comments can be provided about any proposed mariculture operation. Additionally, a public meeting will be held in the municipality or town closest to the location of the proposed oyster mariculture operation where questions can be addressed, and comments provided. The public comment period will be open for at least 30 days.

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Selling Oysters Grown in Mariculture

Can I sell my own oysters harvested from my permitted area?
Yes, if you obtain a Wholesale Fish Dealer’s License from TPWD and obtain shellfish certification from the Department of State Health Services, (DSHS).

Can I sell oysters directly to the public from my permitted operation?
No. Because oysters can impact public health, oyster sales are regulated under both Federal and State law.  Stringent human health protections are mandated, inspected and enforced by duly licensed agents. 

Why do I need two licenses/certifications to sell my oysters?
TPWD is permitting the use of the water column for the production and harvest of cultivated oysters. These oysters can only be sold to a dealer holding a Wholesale Fish Dealers License and one that is certified by DSHS as a Shellstock Shipper or Shucker-Packer. Permittees who wish to sell their oysters to restaurants or the public must obtain this additional TPWD license and DSHS certification.

Am I required to report oysters produced from my permitted area?
Yes. Parks and Wildlife Code §66.019 requires the collection of information on the harvest of aquatic products of the state.

When are Harvest Reports due?
By the 10th day of the following month.

Do I need to send in a Harvest Report even if I did not harvest shellfish on my permitted area?
Yes. You are required to electronically submit a Harvest Report for every month of the year regardless if you harvested or not. Please check the box "NO HARVEST" and write in the corresponding months. Harvest reporting can be accomplished on-line.

Can I submit my harvest for multiple permitted areas on one report form?
No. You must submit a separate Harvest Report for each of your permitted locations.

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Mariculture Specifics

Can I work an open water area in front of my property?
Property ownership is not the sole requirement to establish a mariculture operation.  The requirements to establishing a COM remains the same regardless of property ownership.

Why do I need TPWD approval for my Mariculture Site?  I own the property.
Bays are a common public trust resource, and certain State and Federal restrictions apply to ensure all users have safe access to these public waters. 

How much will a cultivated oyster mariculture permit cost?
In addition to the costs associated with applying for/setting up the permitted area, there are ongoing costs of maintaining and working the permit to consider. Start-up costs for oyster mariculture can run from $32,500 (AL) to $60,000 (DE) per acre.
The fees associated with permitting include:
$200 application fee
Annual permit fee of $450/acre/year (grow-out), $170/acre/year (nursery) + public waters surcharge of $0.01/ft2/year if located on public waters.
A Broodstock Permit ($25) is required to collect adult oysters for use in hatchery facilities. Restitution costs also apply and are based on the number of oysters collected.
There are many additional ongoing costs associated with oyster mariculture including, but not limited to:
Procuring seed and testing seed for import (if purchased outside of Texas)
Acquisition of gear, equipment, and maintenance
Labor
Marketing/transportation to market, etc.
It is the Permittee’s responsibility to contact any other State, Local or Federal jurisdictional
agencies that may have additional requirements / fees.  Such agencies include but are not
limited to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Texas General Land Office, The Texas
Department of Agriculture, the Texas Department of State Health Services, and the Texas
Commission on Environmental Quality.

To whom do I write my check?
Checks will be made out to each permitting agency as per their requirements. 
For TPWD fees, the check is made out to:
TPWD
Attn: Commercial Oyster Mariculture
4200 Smith School Road
Austin, TX78744

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How quickly will I see a return on my investment?
Returns are highly variable and dependent on availability of market, labor costs, initial investment, and survival rates, among other factors.

Do I need insurance, if so, what kind?
Insurance is a personal business decision and not part of this program.

Is the license transferrable?
No.  The license cannot be transferred or subleased to another party.  Permit and authorizations by the other permitting agencies must be issued to the COM permit applicant. Should a lessee choose to relinquish their license, a formal letter of relinquishment must be submitted to TPWD.

Can I sublet the remaining time on my COM permit?
No.  The permit cannot be transferred or subleased to another party.  Should a permit holder choose to relinquish their permit, a formal letter of relinquishment must be submitted to TPWD and all equipment and gear removed from the permitted area.

How long is the permit period?
10 years

How long will it take to get an oyster mariculture permit?
The timeframe for the permitting process depends on a number of factors, including the number of mariculture permit applications that are submitted during that time, the time it takes for an applicant to complete the natural resource survey and acquire all required clearance items, etc. The applicant has 12 months from the date of receiving a conditional permit from TPWD to submit an administratively complete oyster mariculture permit application. This time period can be extended upon request by the department.

Why is a Natural Resource Survey required to obtain an oyster mariculture permit?
Oyster mariculture operations cannot be placed in locations where sensitive habitat, such as seagrass beds or oyster habitat, could be impacted. Applicants should contact the department early in the planning process to review their potential site relative to sensitive habitat features as well as other uses that conflict with oyster mariculture.

What types of cultivated oyster mariculture permits are issued?
There are three types of operations that require a TPWD-issued permit. A Cultivated Oyster Mariculture Permit (COMP) is required for a nursery or grow-out facility. These permits are valid for 10 years. A Broodstock Permit is required for a hatchery that plans to spawn native oysters to produce seed that can be sold to nursery or grow-out operations. This permit is valid for 60 days.

Do I need a commercial oyster fisherman’s license to participate?
No. The COM permit provides the authorization for the permittee to participate in this fishery. Others working for the permittee are allowed to do so under a Sub-Permittee Authorization Form (PWD 1439A-V3400).

Can any area of the bay be permitted for cultivated oyster mariculture?
No. Areas may be closed to oyster harvest by DSHS, currently leased (e.g. oil and gas, navigation channels, etc.), be on or near sensitive habitat (seagrass, oyster reefs, rookery islands, etc.), or heavily used by other users (commercial or recreational fishing, sailing, etc.).  All proposed sites must be approved by TPWD before leases, permits or other authorizations can be obtained.

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Are there limits on the amount of area/bay system that can be permitted?
No, but active use criteria will apply that requires the planting of 100,000 seed oysters per acre per year for the duration of the permit. The total number of acres that can be permitted within a bay system may be limited by the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

Are there any time restrictions to do routine maintenance work on my permitted area?
Yes, TPWD requires vessels to work only in daylight hours from dawn to dusk. 

Are there any time restrictions to harvest my permitted area?
Yes, FDA and DSHS seasonal time to refrigeration restrictions apply to all harvested oyster products.  Additionally, TPWD requires vessels harvest only in daylight hours from dawn to dusk.

Are there any size restrictions on mariculture-harvested oysters?
Yes, 2.5-inches is the legal size of cultured oysters produced in a mariculture operation in Texas harvested under a COM permit. A transport document is required to be in possession when moving any oysters of any size less than 3-inches.

What does the permittee have to do to maintain their permitted area?
The permittee must sign a permit agreement with TPWD and pay a yearly permit fee by the date specified in the permit agreement. Additionally, active use criteria must be met and the permittee must comply with all conditions of the cultivated oyster mariculture permit. Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the permit may result in the permit being suspended or revoked.

How often can I change my operation plan (ex: adding new equipment), and what procedures do I follow to do so?
There are no limits on the number of times an operational plan can change, however documented changes must be submitted on an Amendment Form (PWD 1439C-V3400) and approved by TPWD prior to implementation. Failure to wait for approval of an operational plan may result in the permit being noncompliant with conditions of the permit and may result in disruption of activities. 

What will happen to the oyster mariculture infrastructure if the permit is not renewed or the permittee no longer wishes to participate in the program?
All infrastructure must be removed from the permitted area/s within 60 days if operations are expired, cancelled or surrendered. Penalties for failing to remove this infrastructure in a timely manner could apply.

How will oyster mariculture permitted areas be marked to ensure they’re not a hazard to water safety and navigation, particularly at night? 
All permitted oyster mariculture areas must be reviewed by the U.S. Coast Guard who will notify applicants/permittees of any marking requirements which could include lighted buoys or pilings. Notices to mariners would also be issued and the permitted area would be marked on navigational charts. Additionally, TPWD requires that each corner be clearly marked and identified. See the Rules Text for these marking requirements.

Can I collect wild oyster seed?
No. To ensure oysters grown in mariculture operations are only sourced from approved hatcheries and to avoid impacting wild oysters, oyster seed can only be acquired from approved Gulf of Mexico suppliers.

Where can I obtain seed?
Oyster seed can only be obtained from TPWD-approved growers that utilize broodstock from north of Aransas Bay for the northern region and broodstock from south of Aransas Bay for the southern region. Additional conditions apply for out-of-state hatcheries. Contact TPWD for specific information (oyster.mariculture@tpwd.texas.gov) 

What oysters can I use?
TPWD will allow the use of diploid and triploid oysters (Crassostrea virginica) produced at hatcheries along the Gulf of Mexico.  Triploid oysters originating from the Louisiana line can only be placed in waters from Aransas Bay northward. Diploid seed must originate from Texas broodstock and be from the appropriate local genetic stock, depending on the location of the permitted area.  Northern stock oysters are defined as oysters found in areas north of Aransas Bay, southern stock oysters are those found south of Aransas Bay. Operations in Aransas Bay can use diploid seed oysters from either stock.   A disease-free certification from a TPWD approved laboratory and ploidy test results are required before oyster seed produced in out-of-state hatcheries can be placed into public waters of the state.

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Can I bring in oysters from overseas?
No. To ensure both wild-caught and mariculture-produced oyster industries remain viable, oyster stocks are limited to approved Gulf of Mexico suppliers.

Can I bring in oysters from the East coast?
No.  The East coast has several oyster diseases and parasites that are not found in the Gulf of Mexico. These diseases and parasites have resulted in significant mortality of wild oysters in those areas.  To ensure both wild-caught and mariculture-produced oyster industries remain viable, oyster stocks are limited to approved Gulf of Mexico suppliers.

Can I bring in oysters from the Pacific coast?
No.  Pacific oysters are a different species.  To ensure both wild-caught and mariculture-produced oyster industries remain viable, oyster stocks are limited to approved Gulf of Mexico suppliers.

What types of gear can I put into the water on my permitted area?
The type of gear (e.g. cages, bags, trays, etc.) that will be needed for oyster mariculture depends on the type of operation (shallow water vs deep water) the permittee decides to utilize. There are a variety of gear options available and examples can be found with a simple search of the internet.

Why can’t I use antifouling paint on my gear?
Mariculture gear will be deployed for extended periods and experience significant abrasive action from the water and oysters, causing paint to slough off and fall to the sea floor. The long-term accumulation of anti-fouling paint on the bottom of the permitted area could do harm to the abundance of other species and have sub-lethal effects on species that eat bottom dwellers. Oysters are also filter feeders and chemicals that slough off from antifouling coatings could be ingested by oysters and create public health risks.

Can I simply place cultch on the bottom and harvest that?
No. While placing oyster cultch on the bottom is viable for oyster production, it is separately designated from the mariculture program which is specifically off-bottom (water column) operations.

How do I grow oysters?   
There are several on-line sources that provide information on oyster mariculture/aquaculture operations. You may also wish to contact your local Texas Sea Grant agent for assistance.

Where can I locate my oyster mariculture operation or area?    
There are several considerations that must be made in deciding where to locate a COM permitted area. TPWD encourages applicants to coordinate with staff to evaluate your potential site using the department’s Marine Spatial Planning Tool which identifies many of these siting factors.

Who will reimburse my losses after a tropical storm?
Permittees are responsible for ensuring equipment and oysters are secure and safe in the event of a tropical storm. It is the responsibility of the permittee and a requirement of the permit to have a Hurricane/Tropical Storm Emergency Management Plan that specifies the steps that will be taken to minimize loss of mariculture gear in the event of a storm. Private insurance may be available but would be the responsibility of the permittee.

Can I harvest my oysters if there is Red Tide in the area?
The organism that causes Red Tide produces a heat-stable toxin that can be accumulated by oysters and can result in Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning if consumed. Closures of shellfish harvest areas are made by the Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and no harvesting will be permitted during red tide events or other DSHS closures.

Someone is poaching my oysters, what can I do?
Contact your local Game Wardens and report location, date and time of incident and any identifying characteristics of the poachers including boat make, model and color, number of people in boat, etc. Taking photos of the boat or vehicle of suspected poachers will also be helpful to law enforcement personnel.

How to get further information?
Contact your local Texas Sea Grant agent for potential assistance.

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