Oyster Maricutlure in Texas - FAQs

General Information

Mariculture Locations

Permit Specifics

Mariculture Specifics

Oyster Questions

Harvesting and Selling Oysters grown in Mariculture

Reporting Requirements


General Information

What is the difference between mariculture oysters and wild harvested oysters?
Oysters grown in mariculture operations rely on seed oysters produced in a hatchery and are grown in cages, as compared to harvested from a natural reef via dredge. Harvest can occur year-round because oysters do not depend on seasonal spawning. The techniques involved in mariculture creates deep-cupped, single oysters while wild harvested oysters tend to be longer and clumped. There is no nutritional difference in mariculture or wild harvested oysters.

Why allow oyster mariculture?
The creation of an oyster mariculture program is generating a new industry in Texas, which may have a positive impact on businesses and local economy. It is generally accepted that oyster mariculture has a net benefit for the environment as the cultured oysters offer the same ecosystem services as wild oysters. Oysters have the ability to filter up to 50 gallon of water per day per oyster (for a 3” oyster), thus help with water quality in bays. Harvesting of cultured oysters can also be an alternative to harvesting wild oysters. Oyster mariculture can also provide a unique culinary experience for consumers, as specific flavor profiles can be curated through specific cultivation techniques.

What is the risk to the environment from oyster mariculture?
Impacts of oyster mariculture operations on the marine environment are not anticipated to be significant. Program regulations require that farms are sited away from sensitive habitats such as seagrasses, oysters, and bird rookeries. There are also stringent requirements for securing and maintaining equipment in the water to minimize debris problems. There is minimal risk to natural oyster populations in terms of genetics and disease due to strict biosecurity protocols. Oyster mariculture methods and equipment have been refined and used for many years around the world. Oysters grown in mariculture operations rely on naturally occurring microalgae for growth, thus do not require extra food or nutrients to be added to the water.

Will the oyster mariculture infrastructure have impacts on coastal processes?
The supporting buoys, lines, and floating cages will have a degree of flexibility as they float on or near the water’s surface allowing for waves to pass over and through this infrastructure with no significant alteration to wave processes. Because only off-bottom culture is allowed, there will be no significant impact to the bay bottom from the gear, as only pylons and anchors will be placed on the bay bottom.

Will oyster mariculture infrastructure negatively impact marine life? 
The type of equipment used in oyster mariculture has 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. Ropes and lines are kept under tension to prevent marine life entanglement. Netting is not allowed. Locations must be specified distances from natural oyster beds, rookeries, and at a water depth greater than 3ft to reduce entanglement by wading birds.

Will you be able to see 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. However, written permission is required from adjacent landowners if the mariculture operation is within 1000’ of the shoreline.

Will the public have an opportunity to provide comments about an oyster mariculture site before it’s constructed?
Yes. Cultivated Oyster Mariculture (COM) application information will be posted on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) 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 or virtually where questions can be addressed. Information about the public meeting will be posted on the TPWD website at least two weeks prior to the meeting date. The public comment period will stay open for at least two weeks after the public meeting.

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. Additionally, TPWD requires that each corner be clearly marked and identified.


Mariculture Locations

Can any area of the bay be permitted for cultivated oyster mariculture? Where can I locate my oyster mariculture operation?
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. Some areas may not be permitted if they are a navigational hazard, closed to oyster harvest by the Texas Department of State Health Services, currently leased (e.g., oil and gas, coastal projects, etc.), 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 authorizations from other agencies can be obtained. 

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.

Can I work an open water area in front of my property? Why do I need TPWD approval if I own the property?
Adjacent property ownership is not the sole requirement to establish a mariculture operation. The requirements to establish a COM site remain the same regardless of adjacent property ownership. 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. In addition, health considerations must also be taken into account based on the location.


Permit Specifics

What types of cultivated oyster mariculture permits are issued?
Permits are issued for oyster grow-out facilities (farms), oyster nurseries, and hatcheries. Grow-out permits allow for the sale of cultivated oysters for consumption, while nursery/hatchery permits only allow for the sale of oyster larvae and seed to grow-out facilities, nurseries, and research facilities.

How long is the permit period?
10 years

Is the permit transferrable? Can I sublet my permit?
No. The permit 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 permittee choose to relinquish their permit, a formal letter of relinquishment must be submitted to TPWD.

How much will a cultivated oyster mariculture permit cost?
The fees associated with TPWD permitting include:

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. For example, the Texas General Land Office requires you to have a surface lease, please contact them for associated fees.

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 to $60,000 per acre depending on the type of gear used.
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

Transportation to market, dealer, or processing
Marketing

How long will it take to get an oyster mariculture permit?
The timeframe for the permitting process depends on several factors including (but not limited to) the time it takes for an applicant to complete the natural resource survey, make any requested changes to their operations plan, address public comment, and acquire all required clearance items. The applicant has 12 months from the date of receiving a Conditional permit from TPWD to submit the additional leases, permits, and authorizations from other agencies to complete the oyster mariculture permit process before receiving their Final permit. This time-period can be extended, upon request, by the department. On average, the entire permitting process (including obtaining authorizations from other state and federal agencies) take 3 to 6 months, although this could be longer if permitting conflicts arise.

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. The survey confirms that the area does not contain sensitive habitat. 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.


Mariculture Specifics

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

What types of gear can I use in the water in my permitted area?
The type of gear (cages, bags, trays, etc.) used for oyster mariculture depends on the type of operation the permittee decides on. All gear must be listed in your application for the department to review and approve before it can be deployed. Proposed gear is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

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.

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 amendment may result in the permit being noncompliant with conditions of the permit and may result in disruption of activities.

What does the permittee have to do to maintain their permitted area?
The permittee must pay a yearly permit fee, meet the active use criteria, and comply with all conditions of the cultivated oyster mariculture permit. This includes maintaining marking pylons/buoys and securing gear. Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the permit may result in the permit being suspended or revoked.

Are there any time restrictions to do routine maintenance work on my permitted area?
Yes, vessels may only work in daylight hours from dawn to dusk. Oysters may only be harvested between 30 minutes after sunrise and sunset.

Do I need a commercial oyster fisherman’s license or harvester’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). 

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; we do not advise on this issue. Issuance of a permit does not hinge on insurance requirements, but this should not be taken as advise either for or against insurance.

Who will reimburse my losses after a tropical storm?
Private insurance may be available but would be the responsibility of the permittee, TPWD does not reimburse for losses. 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. Permittees are responsible for securing equipment and oysters in the event of a tropical storm.


Oyster Questions

What oysters can I use?
Only diploid and triploid Eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica) produced at hatcheries along the Gulf of Mexico may be used in Texas oyster mariculture. Diploid seed must originate from Texas broodstock and be from the appropriate Texas genetic region of the stocking location. Northern stock oysters are defined as oysters found in San Antonio Bay and areas north, southern stock oysters are those found in Upper and Lower Laguna Madre. Aransas and Corpus Christi Bays are considered mixing zones and can use diploid seed oysters from either stock, but broodstock collected from this region can only be used in this region. Triploid seed can be used in the northern region if it is a cross between northern Texas broodstock and an established Gulf of Mexico tetraploid line or northern Texas broodstock chemically induced to triploid condition. In the southern region, triploid seed must be produced from southern Texas broodstock that has been chemically induced. 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. See Biosecurity Protocols for more information.

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.

Can I collect wild oyster seed?
No. To avoid impacting wild oysters, oyster seed can only be acquired from approved Gulf of Mexico suppliers. A separate permit (Broodstock Collection Permit) is required for hatcheries to collect broodstock oysters.

Where can I obtain seed?
Oyster seed can only be obtained from TPWD-approved growers that comply with our biosecurity and genetic requires for cultivated oyster mariculture. Additional conditions apply for out-of-state hatcheries. Contact TPWD for specific information (oyster.mariculture@tpwd.texas.gov )

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 or refer to their website https://oyster.texasseagrant.org/ .

How to get further information?
Contact the Cultivated Oyster Mariculture program at oyster.mariculture@tpwd.texas.gov


Harvesting and Selling Oysters grown in Mariculture

Are there seasonal restrictions on harvesting from my permitted area?No, you may harvest year-round as long as oysters are of legal size and you observe FDA and TDSHS seasonal time to refrigeration restrictions.  All oyster containers must also be tagged with Cultivated Oyster Harvester Tags.

 

Are there any time restrictions to harvest my permitted area?
Yes, oyster harvest may only occur from 30 minutes after sunrise to sunset. Additionally, FDA and TDSHS seasonal time to refrigeration restrictions apply to all harvested oyster products. All oyster containers must also be tagged with Cultivated Oyster Harvester Tags.

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.

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 TDSHS and no harvesting will be permitted during red tide events or other TDSHS closures.

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.

Can I sell my own oysters harvested from my oyster farm?Yes, you can sell to a licensed Wholesale Fish Dealer. If you obtain a Texas Department of State Health Services Shellfish Certification, you may also sell directly to restaurants and other entities authorized by the certification. The Texas Administrative Code and permit provisions explicitly state that you must comply with the Texas Department of State Health Services (TDSHS) sanitation rules regardless of which route you take.

We urge you to review the Texas Administrative Code regarding Shellfish Sanitation – Molluscan Shellfish, the Parks and Wildlife Code regarding Commercial Licenses (Sec. 47.009), and the Texas Department of State Health Services website for information regarding shellfish certification.

Why do I need a different license(s) besides my COM permit to sell my oysters?
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. Please contact the Texas Department of State Health Services for the most complete and accurate answers to your questions regarding health and human safety regulations.


Reporting Requirements

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