Oyster Farming Could Bring More Jobs, Millions to State of Georgia

There’s a new kind of farmer on the Georgian coast and they don’t grow peaches or peanuts, they’re oysters!

Channel 2’s Justin Farmer explained how the state’s newest aquaculture industry will bring money, jobs and half-shell seafood to Georgia.

This eco-friendly food could bring millions of dollars to our state.

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Georgia oysters have the potential to contribute about $5 million to the state’s economy and support 193 full-time and part-time jobs, according to the University of Georgia.

We have spoken with the Georgian oyster farming pioneers and they are feeling the pressure to make this new industry work properly.

Bryan Rackley talked about half-shell oysters as varieties of good wine.

He said that oysters are a way to taste the taste of water.

“You can get a sense of how the water tastes in each of those areas, because I think that’s what oysters do,” Rackley said. “Depending on where you grow your oysters, you’ll have different water qualities, different food levels, different things affecting the food.”

At Rackley’s Decatur Restaurant, shellfish from Canada, Washington and Florida have their own flavors. But what diners really want is something more local.

Chatman County couple Perry and Laura Solomon hold one of six leases in the state to grow oysters here in Tidal Rivers on the Georgia coast.

“We’re the only type of small family that takes on that,” Laura said.

They said they would be thrilled if their oysters were Georgia’s first on Rackley’s menu.

“From spartina to all the little crustaceans and animals that live in the grass. It all contributes to the flavor of the water here,” Perry said.

In 2019, Georgia passed a law legalizing oyster farming.

A UGA marine extension shellfish researcher, Thomas Bliss, used state grant money to find out how well oysters grow in cages floating along the Georgian coast.

“You don’t have to feed them. …you just have to give them a place to live while you grow them,” Bliss said.

Bliss said Georgia’s deep river marshes and high tide make it an ideal location for growing oysters.

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“If everything goes well, then that’s what you’ll get in about a year,” Bliss said.

Captain Charlie Phillips owns an oyster lease in McIntosh County, not far from the clams he’s been farming since 1996.

“In our little 100 miles of coastline, we could have serious production and serious jobs,” Phillips said. “I already have an infrastructure, I have a clientele. I have a team that is used to working on the water.

But Phillips is concerned about wording in the new law that threatens producers with a three-year license suspension for violators.

The Solomons, who signed their oyster lease in March, have their own concerns. Almost five months later, they are still waiting for federal approval to put their oysters in the water.

They said the hardest part is not knowing.

“We feel responsible to our friends, our family or our community that this is done well. And like some of the first people to do it, you know, we’re going to represent the industry as it grows,” Perry said.

Federal approval is the last step for oyster tenants before they start growing. Next, the state studies the harvesting of oysters in the summer.

Since the Georgian coast is so warm, they learn how to do it safely so you can enjoy raw local oysters on your Georgia beach trip.

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