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Tide to Table Profile: Barrier Beauties

September 23, 2022

Barrier Beauties grows oysters in East Galveston Bay, on the coast of Port Bolivar, Texas.

A raw bar with oysters on ice, next to a glass of champagne and two mignonette sauce options for the oysters. After raw oysters from Barrier Beauties are enjoyed by restaurant patrons, the empty shells are often recycled into new oyster habitat. Credit: Barrier Beauties

The Barrier Beauties oyster farm is breaking new ground in East Galveston Bay. Founder Hannah Kaplan was the first aquaculture grower to file an application with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. A Houston native, Kaplan quit a full-time job to follow her dream of building a sustainable oyster farm.

A long chain of two-in-a-row oyster cages float atop the water, tethered to a Barrier Beauties boat.
Barrier Beauties uses floating oyster cages, or mesh bags, that float atop the water (a process known as “top water growing”). The oysters are spawned in a hatchery, grown out in a nursery to juvenile size, then placed in cages on the bay to grow to market size. Credit: Barrier Beauties

Only recently legalized for permitting in Texas state waters, shellfish aquaculture drew Kaplan’s interest because of its substantial positive effects on the environment. Now one of just three operating farms statewide, Barrier Beauties was the first to harvest farm-grown oysters in Texas.

While identifying the ideal location for the farm, Kaplan sought shallow water as close to shore as possible. “Texas has quite a few restrictions on siting. For example, farms must be 1,250 feet from shore, can’t be closer than 500 feet to any oil well, must be 800 feet away from natural oyster reefs, and can’t be over any area with seagrass. This really narrowed our search, as there are a great deal of oyster reefs in the area,” says Kaplan.

A Focus on Sustainability

One benefit of permitting shellfish aquaculture in Texas is that farms like Kaplan’s are workable year-round. By contrast, local wild oyster reefs must regularly close to allow time for regrowth. By providing an additional source of fresh seafood, aquaculture additionally relieves the pressure on wild-caught stock to meet demand.

Kaplan adds that even the shells of eaten oysters can benefit the environment and protect communities against the effects of climate change, “The restaurants who purchase our oysters are mostly partners of nonprofits that recycle used shells to build up existing oyster reefs. Replanting is great for the environment, and it helps buffer our coastline against storm surge (an abnormal rise of water caused by a storm).”

From Farm to Table

At the moment, Barrier Beauties only sells to local restaurants through a distributor. As a new business, the focus is on building a team, getting procedures in place, and having a successful harvest. Eventually, Kaplan envisions building more personal relationships with consumers by selling directly at farmers markets and similar events.

Barrier Beauties uses a new technology called BlueTrace, to trace the oysters’ journey from farm to table. Tags on the oyster bags have QR codes that restaurant chefs can scan and receive information about the farm, such as salinity levels, when the oysters were planted, and other details important to some customers. According to Kaplan, “This feature adds to the freshness appeal of our product.”

Fun Fact

A selfie of Hannah Kaplan on her boat on a sunny day, with her oyster farm site in the background.
Owner Hannah Kaplan pauses her boat next to a row of oyster cages. Credit: Barrier Beauties

Hannah is Jewish and grew up Kosher. Until starting in aquaculture, she had never eaten an oyster before. “But, I have tried quite a few since then! If you told me a few years ago that I would be farming oysters for a living, I’d have said you were crazy. I love the sustainability factor, and seeing people get excited about fresh shellfish.”


Sustainable Seafood from Tide to Table

The Tide to Table series profiles members of the aquaculture community, who provide valuable jobs and increase access to fresh, sustainably sourced American seafood. Aquaculture is more than seafood production. It is about ecosystem stewardship, coastal communities, and economic opportunities.

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Last updated by Office of Aquaculture on September 26, 2022