Oyster ranching could reinvigorate Florida's oyster production

Oyster farms may help feed future generations

Florida's oyster ranch
Florida's oyster ranch

WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla. – For eons, oysters have been harvested by digging them out at low tide or by tonging, using a long post hole type tool to lift the bivalves from the water, but now the lack of fresh water supplies has devastated Florida’s oyster production. Many now believe that the future is in oyster ranching.

The Panacea Oyster Co-Op may soon be the largest oyster ranch in Florida. There are 38 leases and it totals more than 50 acres that are devoted to growing oysters in cages. 

Rob Olin has several of the leases and has organized the co-op to manage the oysters from spat to the table.

"We’re going to be employing four to six hundred people with on-the-water jobs. This is what this county was built on and its been lost due to us, quite frankly, people." Olin said. 

When at full production, the oyster ranchers will be producing tens of millions of oysters a year, all on submerged land leased from the state.

Attorney Fred Harris is one of the brains behind the co-op. "We helped put this together so the co-op would be the marketing arm, and the branding arm, and the distribution arm." Harris said. 

And while it could take a few years to come to fruition, Olin says oyster farming could be the futures' answer to hunger.

"You get 30 times more protein off an acre of water  than you do an acre of land. We have more ranch able water in our state that any other state in the union." Olin said.  

The co-op will pasteurize the oysters before fast-freezing them when shipping to out-of-state or foreign markets,  eliminating a rare but deadly disease know as vibrio vulnificus. The oyster farming is a product of a new environmental education program at Tallahassee Community College.