TAMPA, Fla. - A Bay Area couple is working to build back Florida's oyster industry after the Apalachicola Bay oyster fishery was shut down.
Brian and Lindsay Rosegger own and operate Lost Coast Oyster Company -- the first aquaculture oyster farm in the history of Tampa Bay. They saw an opportunity as they watched the iconic Apalachicola oyster fishery get shut down after years of drought and other pressures destroyed wild oyster beds there.
Brian says aquaculture farming like this could help alleviate pressure on fishery populations around Florida that have suffered from decades of wild harvesting.
"It becomes increasingly clear that we can’t continue to harvest at the rates that we have historically, especially when you consider the needs for future demands," he said. "I knew there were guys growing clams here in Tampa Bay. That tells me if there is food for clams, there is probably going to be food for oysters, too."
Lost Coast Oyster Company leases two acres of pristine water from the state in the Terra Ceia Aquatic Preserve near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.
Brian spends entire days at the farm, spacing oysters as they grow so they don't compete for food. And they grow quickly.
In the northeast, an oyster can take two years to grow from spawn to harvest. Here in the warm waters of Tampa Bay, it’s happening in less than a year.
Faster growth fills the incessant demand quicker.
"We have no shortage of restaurants that are buying oysters from all over the country. I said there is no reason they shouldn’t be buying an oyster from Tampa Bay," says Brian.
Lindsay and Brian regularly deliver fresh oysters straight from the bay to a few St. Pete restaurants, like Alto Mare Fish Bar.
"It's been an amazing opportunity for us and we are actually starting to use a lot of local stuff here," says Jacob Forman, manager at Alto Mare.
Lindsay says as the farm grows, they'll be able to supply more restaurants.
Brian says that while they may be pioneers of sustainable oyster farming in Tampa Bay, they hope they aren't alone.
"We hope we can inspire other people to follow in our path and we want to put Tampa Bay on the map," he added.