“Australia is watching us,” said Steve Cushman, instructor for Tallahassee Community College’s Oyster Aquaculture Certification program. The new program, created and administered by TCC’s Wakulla Environmental Institute, instructs students in the art and science of cultivating, harvesting and marketing oysters. Oyster growers Down Under are watching us, because the type of oyster production proposed in the WEI program is based on Australia’s long-line oyster farming method.
Long-line oyster farming is much different than the tonging method used locally, and was not legally possible in Florida until about six months ago. Cushman’s connections to Australian oyster farmers have turned their eyes to Wakulla County, curious for the results of the program.
Prior to July 2013, oyster harvesting was primarily restricted to oysters growing wild in beds on the bottom of our bays. Until then it was illegal for anyone to use the entire water column for aquaculture, restricting water use to only 6 inches above the bottom. On July 1, 2013 the law changed, allowing full use of the water column for aquaculture.
The new law presented an opportunity for Florida to introduce a different process for cultivating oysters. “This is an experiment,” said WEI executive director Bob Ballard. “The purpose of the program is to bring jobs and money to Wakulla and the surrounding areas. If successful, this will change the economic face of Wakulla County.”