1 month ago

Alabama 2020 oyster harvest doubles previous year’s totals

Harvest numbers for the 2020 Alabama oyster season, which ended on December 23, indicate the state’s oyster ecosystem is bouncing back in a big way.

That 2020 harvest of 22,000 sacks doubled the previous year’s harvest, thanks to improving conditions and a new method developed by the Alabama Marine Resources Division (MRD) to determine when and where oysters could be harvested.

“I think it was a very successful season,” said Colonel Scott Bannon, MRD Director. “We think we are turning a corner on the things that we can control, which is the amount of harvest and the areas harvested as we work to rebuild our public reefs. As long as environmental conditions are favorable, I think we’re going to continue to see growth. With as many as 144 (oyster) boats on the water during a day, there was a lot of bottom that was turned, which is healthy for that reef by exposing shell and cultch material. When you don’t have harvest on a reef, you’re not exposing shell that may have been silted over. When you expose that shell and cultch material, it makes it available for spat (oyster larvae) to attach for future seasons. It’s that harvester’s circle. You work the reef; the spat sets and the reef expands. A lot of benefits came out of the harvest we had. It was a financial boost to the local economy, but also for the rest of the state and other areas that were receiving our oysters. It was a very desirable product.”

Bannon said the demand for Alabama oysters was high, not only because of their quality, but also because the only other Gulf state with a fully open oyster season was Texas.

“It was a high-value product for a limited availability due to COVID,” he said. “COVID still had a negative impact on the oystering because there are still places around the country that are not open to sit-down-style dining. That’s where oysters generally are consumed in the half-shell market. The quarts and gallons of shucked oysters still had a market in stores, but COVID did have an impact.”

Dana Harbison Taylor at Anna’s Oysters in Bayou La Batre, which has been processing oysters for 28 years from sources around the Gulf of Mexico, said the 2020 Alabama season was a welcome success despite COVID.

“This year I saw more boats, so more people were interested in catching oysters,” Taylor said. “And I saw larger oysters than last year, which means the oysters are growing. Also, I could also tell by how fast the oyster catchers were coming in. It shows how many oysters were there. They weren’t scratching, as we call it, trying to find oysters. They were catching them pretty fast. When the season kicked off in October, some of the seasoned catchers would be pulling up to the docks within 45 minutes to an hour. It was unreal how fast they were coming in.”

Taylor said the demand for Alabama oysters was excellent for a variety of reasons.

“People had a lot of interest in Alabama oysters because they have a meatier texture, so they were fatter,” she said. “They were salty. They have an all-around different taste. We have a lot of locals and businesses that requested Alabama oysters. We had a truck waiting on the catchers to bring the oysters in. We were determined to buy Alabama oysters. And the catchers were telling me the reefs are loaded with oysters. They said there were oysters everywhere. I think it’s awesome.”

Bannon said the development of a grid system for management of the oyster reefs allowed MRD to be a great deal more flexible in opening and closing areas to harvest.

“Last year, during the season, we had some areas where harvesters were concentrating and probably overworking,” Bannon said. “But we felt there were other areas with harvestable oysters (at least 3 inches in length) they were not accessing, and we didn’t have a mechanism to close portions of areas we had open. We developed a grid system with 500 by 500 square meter grids so we could open and close those grids. Now we can use the grid system to narrow the areas of harvest. That does multiple things. It gives us an idea of specific areas where people are harvesting, which helps account for the oysters that are coming off the reef. We can then compare that area harvest to our preseason surveys and make season adjustments.”

Bannon said that situation occurred this year at the Cedar Point West Zone. MRD closed Cedar Point West after the northern end received a lot of harvest pressure and opened Cedar Point East. After surveying other sections of Cedar Point West and finding harvestable oysters, MRD was able to use the grid system to reopen a portion of Cedar Point West while keeping the northern end closed.

“That gave the harvesters an extra 4,000 sacks from that area,” Bannon said of the sack measurement that equals a bushel basket. “Some people are saying we’re using the grids to exclude them from harvesting in certain areas. That is true once they have worked to what we feel is the optimum yield. But we also use it to open areas where we think they will have additional opportunities for harvest. We feel like it was pretty successful.”

Oyster harvesters can go to www.outdooralabama.com/fishing/saltwater-fishing and look for the Oyster OMS Grid Map tab. Once there they can turn on location services, which will show the harvesters which grid they are in at the time. If harvesters don’t have a smartphone, MRD has an oyster management trailer available to provide graphics with the latest information.

“Marine Resources does not gather any information from those location services,” Bannon said. “We do not see the location of the oyster catcher from the website. We’re not tracking people. It’s there for the catchers’ benefit, and some of the catchers really liked it. They were able to move around. Some of them were really able to take advantage of it. I think it was a very effective tool to allow them to harvest maximum yield.”

MRD determines maximum yield by doing preseason dives and surveying one-square-meter blocks of the bottom to determine the oyster density and viability of the oyster habitat.

“We take everything from that one square meter and determine how much cultch material is there and how many live oysters are there from spat stage to undersized to harvestable oysters,” Bannon said. “We use that to determine how many sacks are available in an area. This year, we estimated that we could harvest around 19,000 sacks. During the season, we watched where people were working. We sent staff out to see them working on the reefs and conducted additional surveys, which allowed us to expand from 19,000 sacks to 22,000 sacks.”

Despite the encouraging results of the 2020 oyster season, MRD is working to revive some oyster reefs that have not been productive lately.

“Environmental changes have impacted the traditional oyster beds in Mobile Bay,” Bannon said. “We are working on some restoration projects. We’re looking at elevating the bottom in some of those areas because there is low dissolved oxygen on the bottom, and the oysters can’t survive. Once you elevate them in the water column, they have the potential to survive. We have a project called mounds and furrows, where we have piled shells and gravel in different fashions to get it higher in the water column. We will survey those areas to see if the spat is adhering to that material and surviving because the oxygen levels are higher. We will also be expanding our hatchery in Gulf Shores (Claude Peteet Mariculture Center) to produce oyster larvae to be delivered to an expanded program at Dauphin Island, where we place that larvae on shell. Those shells containing small oysters can then be used to revitalize some of the historic oyster reefs. Oysters are important, not only for harvest – we all enjoy that – but they are critical to the ecosystem. They are crucial for water quality, and they are important as a food supply for some of the other marine species. You need a good supply of oysters to have a healthy harvest and a healthy ecosystem.”

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

1 hour ago

7 Things: Pressure to end COVID restrictions builds on Ivey, University of Alabama System back to full-time schedules this fall, more vaccines coming to Alabama and more …

7. Trumps get vaccinated

  • According to one of former President Donald Trump’s advisers, Trump and former first lady Melania Trump got their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine before they left the White House this year. This is the first news that Trump received the vaccine.
  • Of course, their second doses were administered while living in Florida. Previously, Trump didn’t say one way or the other if he would get the vaccine, and his doctors had said he shouldn’t get the vaccine due to possible complications from treatments he received when he had the virus.

6. U.S. Rep. Jerry Carl makes monuments fight a national issue

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  • There has been a lot of debate in Alabama over the future of Confederate monuments in the state. The battle is now moving to Washington, D.C. after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) recommended 150 sites be changed. Included in the suggestions are the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and even monuments that honored Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.
  • Now, U.S. Representative Jerry Carl (R-Mobile) has introduced the “The American Heritage Protection Act” that would protect national monuments from bureaucrats. He advised, “My bill is in response to D.C. bureaucrats’ attempts to change the names, remove, relocate, or “contextualize” the Jefferson Memorial and the Washington Monument.”

5. Biden is back to believing all women should be heard

  • Apparently, hitting on a girl at a wedding is the straw that broke the back of the American news media and their Democrats, as they are covering New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) many scandals. This comes after the third accusation of sexual harassment has come out against Cuomo. White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that President Joe Biden would support an “independent” investigation.
  • Biden was much less open to an investigation into Tara Reade’s accusations of sexual assault against him, but Psaki claims that “Biden has been consistent that he believes every woman should be heard.”

4. Tuberville: 2022 is the last chance to keep America 

  • U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) recently spoke about the future of the country and upcoming elections while at the 2021 Winter Meeting for the Alabama Republican Party. Tuberville said that “we’re in trouble” and noted that Republicans are those who want “God in our schools, that want “to go with the Constitution” and that want to “have small government.”
  • Tuberville added that Democrats “are just the opposite.” He added that 2022 is the last chance before “it’ll be too far gone,” stressing the importance of the midterm elections for Republicans.

3. Alabama to receive over 40,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccine

  • The Johnson & Johnson single-dose coronavirus vaccine is the third vaccine on the market, and the Alabama Department of Public Health has said that the state will receive 40,100 doses just this week.
  • This will dramatically increase the vaccination rate in Alabama, where 617,768 people have already received at least one dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine. It’s now expected that Alabama will receive 140,000 doses of coronavirus vaccines this week.

2. These kids are going to throw a tantrum

  • The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa will all reopen for the fall 2021 semester as normal, removing all classroom restrictions and returning to full in-person classes.
  • There’s a “strong likelihood” that going back to regular on-campus activity will be safe in the fall, according to dean of UAB School of Medicine Dr. Selwyn Vickers. Vickers also stated that “if safety concerns arise, we can adjust our plan” as the health and safety of those who attend and work for the schools is the “top priority.”

1. We are officially two weeks from the one year anniversary of “15 days to slow the spread”

  • As daily coronavirus cases have declined throughout the state and more people are being vaccinated every day, there is some question that the statewide mask mandate issued by Governor Kay Ivey may be allowed to expire on March 5. Alabama hospitals want it extended.
  • Ivey has renewed the order since it was first put in place in July, but she has yet to signal if she will be extending the order again. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky has said, “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

2 hours ago

Alabama House to consider bill giving legislature more oversight over how executive branch spends money

The Alabama House will consider a bill on Tuesday, backed by the chamber’s leaders, that would create a joint legislative committee with the authority to approve contracts, leases and agreements made by the executive branch.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Jones (R-Andalusia), chair of the powerful Rules Committee, HB392 comes in the wake of Governor Kay Ivey’s plan to build three massive new prisons for men. Legislators from both parties have complained about their branch of government’s lack of input in the massive deal.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” said House Speaker Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) in a statement.

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McCutcheon is a cosponsor of the legislation alongside Majority Leader Nathaniel Ledbetter (R-Rainsville), Majority Whip Danny Garrett (R-Trussville) and Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston (R-Mobile).

The bill creates the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Obligation Transparency and invests it with the power to approve or disapprove of any state agency’s proposed financial arrangement worth $10 million or 5% of its annual appropriation, whichever is less.

Making up the committee would be the chair, vice chair and ranking minority members of the committees in each legislative chamber that oversee taxation.

Meetings would occur at the call of the chair of the new joint committee, a position which would be elected from among its members at its first meeting. The responsibility of chairing the committee would switch between a member of the House and a member of the Senate each year.

A majority of committee members would also have the authority to call a meeting.

The proposed oversight committee would be able to meet when the legislation is in or out of session. It would have to issue approval or disapproval within 45 days of a state agency submitting a proposed contract.

If the committee were not to issue a decision on a contract within 45 days, it would be considered approved.

Disapproval by the committee would delay a contract from going into effect until after the end of the current or next regular session, giving lawmakers a chance to legislate on the issue.

Only future financial agreements would be subject to examination by the committee, meaning passage of Jones’ bill would not affect Ivey’s prison construction plan.

“Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated,” remarked McCutcheon.

Henry Thornton is a staff writer for Yellowhammer News. You can contact him by email: henry@yellowhammernews.com or on Twitter @HenryThornton95.

3 hours ago

Rep. Jerry Carl introduces bill to prevent bureaucrats from removing, altering certain historical monuments

Congressman Jerry Carl (AL-01) on Monday filed his first-ever piece of legislation, titled “The American Heritage Protection Act of 2021.”

The Republican freshman representative from Mobile noted that his bill comes after the D.C. Facilities and Commemorative Expressions Working Group (DCFACES) last fall recommended 150 sites in our nation’s capital be either removed, contextualized or have their name changed. Sites specifically under fire include the Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Woodrow Wilson High School and the fountain at Chevy Chase Circle.

Other historical figures with listed buildings or monuments included Alexander Graham Bell, Benjamin Franklin, Francis Scott Key, George Mason, Andrew Jackson and Christopher Columbus.

“Today, I was proud to introduce the American Heritage Protection Act of 2021, which protects our nation’s history from being erased or altered based on the whims of government bureaucrats,” said Carl in a statement.

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Carl’s bill would explicitly prohibit the U.S. Department of Interior from changing the names, removing or altering the following monuments in D.C.: the Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, Jefferson Memorial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial and Theodore Roosevelt Island.

Additionally, the legislation would prevent Interior from removing or altering statues related to the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 or Civil War battlefields under its purview.

“While many people wish to erase or rewrite our history, I believe the best path forward involves learning from our complex history and avoiding judgment of historical figures based on today’s standards,” the Coastal Alabama congressman concluded. “If we erase or rewrite our history, we are unable to learn and grow from our past. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join me in this endeavor so we as Americans can engage in honest, accurate, and unifying discussions that enable us to move forward as one nation.”

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

What Alabamians need to know about the latest activity on Goat Hill — March 2, 2021

MONTGOMERY — The Alabama Legislature on Tuesday will convene for the 10th day of its 2021 regular session.

There is also one committee meeting scheduled for the day, as well as one subcommittee meeting.

Read about what occurred last Thursday on the ninth legislative day here.

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Looking ahead

The Alabama Senate will gavel in at 2:00 p.m. on Tuesday.

This will come after the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee meets at 1:00 p.m. The committee’s agenda includes four election-related bills; especially of note, SB 235 sponsored by Sen. Dan Roberts (R-Mountain Brook) would ban curbside voting in Alabama. Curbside voting is not provided for in Alabama law, however it is also not explicitly barred at this time.

The committee is further scheduled to take up SB 259 by Sen. Will Barfoot (R-Pike Road) that would allow the legislature to call itself into a special session. The provisions of the bill would require a joint proclamation by the Senate pro tem and the House speaker to call a special session; a resolution carrying the support of 2/3 of each chamber would then have to be adopted before business could be taken up in such a special session. The bill was officially introduced last week on the first legislative day following Governor Kay Ivey’s “herd of turtles” remarks. Between Barfoot and 16 cosponsors, the bill already has the support of an effective majority of the Senate, which only has a maximum of 32 members in attendance so far this session. SB 259 is a companion bill to Rep. Becky Nordgren’s (R-Gadsden) HB 21, which was prefiled back in October. Her bill is set to be considered in a House committee on Wednesday.

The House will convene at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday. Before that, the County and Municipal Government Committee’s Government Service Subcommittee will meet at 11:00 a.m. On that docket is SB 107 by Sen. Chris Elliot (R-Daphne).

The lower chamber’s floor action is set to focus on a 16-bill special order calendar, which can be viewed here.

Included on that calendar is Rep. Jamie Kiel’s (R-Russellville) HB 103, which would effectively erase the distinction between “essential” and “non-essential” businesses during a pandemic or other declared emergency.

Also slated for consideration is Rep. Scott Stadthagen’s (R-Hartselle) HB 391; this bill would mandate that public school students can only compete in athletic competitions aligning with the gender on their birth certificates.

Another notable bill on the House special order calendar is Rep. Paul Lee’s (R-Dothan) HB 249. This legislation would cap a health insurance beneficiary’s cost-sharing or co-pay for an insulin drug prescription at $100 per 30-day supply.

Observers may also be interested to know that Rep. Jeremy Gray’s (D-Opelika) HB 246 is on the calendar; this is the bill that would allow yoga to be offered in public K-12 schools.

Finally, Rep. Mike Jones’ (R-Andalusia) HB 392 is set to be considered. This bill would create a formal layer of legislative oversight — and additional transparency — on executive branch contracts, leases and agreements exceeding $10 million.

“It is important that we maintain a system of checks and balances, and the Legislature must be able to access important information about agreements that obligate the General Fund to substantial expenditures,” Jones said in a Monday statement. “This bill provides an additional layer of oversight on large executive branch agreements in a manner that is fair, transparent, and, most of all, constitutional.”

Speaker of the House Mac McCutcheon (R-Monrovia) stated that he supports the bill.

“Whenever an administration enters into agreements involving millions of taxpayer dollars, the Legislature deserves to have its questions answered and any concerns addressed,” McCutcheon said. “Rep. Jones’s legislation offers a commonsense method of protecting taxpayers and reassuring lawmakers when large sums of dollars are being obligated.”

While it could pertain to items similar to Governor Ivey’s prison plan in the future, the legislation would not be retroactive and would not apply to current contracts, leases and other obligations.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

LISTEN: Actor Robert Ri’chard previews upcoming faith-based movie ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Robert Ri’chard grew up in South Central Los Angeles in a very challenging environment. He had to make disciplined choices at an early age that would help determine his future and get him to where he is today.

Robert, an actor, entertainer, entrepreneur and mentor, lives with purpose every day.

In this episode, we discuss the choices we all need to make each day to become who God calls us to be. We also talk about the upcoming movie he co-stars in which will be coming out this month, “My Brother’s Keeper.” The movie deals with the struggles of PTSD and how God can help people overcome it. TC Stallings stars as a veteran returning from war and trying to reestablish a life back home. Robert plays his best friend, Donnie, and the two struggle to maintain their relationship after division arises between the two of them. The film also features Keisha Knight Pulliam and Joey Lawrence.

This is a great faith-based movie that is good for the whole family. Check local listings and online for viewing options starting March 19.

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