The Oyster Opportunity

Uncovering solutions that drive reef restoration in the Gulf of Mexico

Oysters from the Gulf of Mexico were once named for the bays where they grew wild. Their abundance provided irreplaceable filtering, shoreline stabilization, habitat for juvenile fish, not to mention food and livelihoods for people. Today, that once-plentiful resource, and all it represented, is desperately depleted.

In almost every coastal region across the country, dedicated organizations and tireless volunteers are working to reestablish viable oyster beds. Most projects are small scale, labor-intensive, high cost, and high risk. Scaling these efforts to a level that can meet the enormous need for restoration nationwide poses significant financial and logistical barriers.

“The oyster fisheries of the Gulf of Mexico need to be managed for what they represent: likely the last opportunity in the world to achieve both large-scale reef conservation and sustainable fisheries.”

—Shellfish Reefs at Risk: A Global Analysis of Problems and Solutions

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), a long-time and primary investor in oyster restoration, commissioned Future of Fish to analyze the current state of oyster restoration in the US. We used a discovery framework to identify opportunities to reduce costs, increase efficiency, spur entrepreneurship, and leverage other non-conventional approaches that could drive and sustain large-scale restoration. Those opportunities included two strategies for enhancing existing restoration efforts, three market mechanisms for driving change, and two policy initiatives to support and incentivize restoration.

Opportunity 1

Expand the support base for restoration activities by creating a national platform to connect local and regional restoration initiatives.

Opportunity 2

Facilitate information-sharing among restoration projects through a single open-source, online collaboration and information-sharing tool.

Opportunity 3

Pair industry and restoration in a way that taps into underutilized resources and builds on infrastructure and knowhow that exists in other industries.

Opportunity 4

Turn oyster farmers into reef stewards by using sales of specially branded oysters to effectively generate restoration funds, raise public awareness, and bring higher profits for growers.

Opportunity 5

Name a new value and develop a market for it through the use of environmental impact bonds or other strategies that use economic valuation to develop new funding vehicles.

Opportunity 6

Streamline the permitting processes to significantly accelerate the initiation of projects, save time and money, and encourage more organizations to pursue restoration activities.

Opportunity 7

Increase the supply of shell to decrease the cost of restoration by enacting widespread shell recycling and recovery legislation and launching related businesses.