Oyster Gardening

Oyster gardening is the non-commercial aquaculture of oysters.  It’s a popular activity in Virginia whereby waterfront homeowners grow oysters off their dock for local restoration purposes and/or personal consumption. Virginia is one, if not the only, state in the U.S that permits oyster gardens in approved shellfish harvest areas and areas closed, or condemned, for harvest. Many states do not allow these activities.  Virginia oyster gardeners are also able to legally harvest what they grow, but only in areas approved for shellfish harvest by the Virginia Department of Health.  MAP staff support oyster gardening efforts by providing science-based information and education to Virginia’s oyster gardeners. The most critical steps oysters gardeners can take to protect public health and to continue Virginia’s oyster gardening legacy are to be compliant with the regulations. 

All oyster gardeners must:
1) Obtain a no-cost permit from the state

A permit needs to be obtained from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission if you wish to grow shellfish in either floats or cages off your pier. The area occupied by your floats and/or cages must not exceed 160 square feet in area. This permit is FREE and must be renewed every 5 years. 

2) Check the status of their growing area

If planning to consume oysters grown off your dock, it is important to make sure they are safe to eat. The Virginia Department of Health, Shellfish Safety routinely monitors the water quality of all waters where shellfish are grown to ensure that harvesting only occurs from very clean water.

The coastal waters are broken down into “growing areas” which are monitored and given a rating – as either approved for shellfish harvest, or condemned, meaning not approved for shellfish harvest. Keep in mind that waters approved for the direct harvest of shellfish must be much cleaner than waters for other activities, like swimming or fishing.

For more information, please read Is it safe to eat my oysters? or watch this video tutorial.

{{youtube:medium:center|q_fMIxVtC8I, Check the status of your growing area}} 

Watch this series of videos put together by VDH Division of Shellfish Safety for more information on the the Growing Area Classification Program.


How oyster gardening got its start in Virginia

Oyster gardening got started in the 1990’s when VIMS scientists partnered with waterfront homeowners to expand oyster aquaculture research already underway with the private industry.  Oyster gardens provided access to a wider variety of grow-out locations for research and the oyster gardening community continue to partner with VIMS on research projects.  Virginia’s oyster gardeners continue to innovate, experience, and perfect the art of oyster farming.

Oyster Gardening Resources
  • Tidewater Oyster Gardeners Association (TOGA): VIMS MAP has a long-standing partnership with TOGA. MAP staff provide science-based information and annual education to TOGA members and in turn, TOGA provides continued support educating the public on oyster gardening fundamentals and environmental stewardship on behalf of VIMS.
Annual Educational Events:
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Master Oyster Gardener Course Happy Hour Seminar Series