Big Tree Oyster Co. and its Dedication to Coastal Conservancy

Big Tree Oyster Co. and its Dedication to Coastal Conservancy

Big Tree Oyster Co. sustainably grows oysters in Copano Bay, restoring the environment in the process.

Amy Belaire and Seth Gambill, owners of Big Tree Oyster Co. | photography by Jason Page

Oysters have long been acknowledged as a crucial line of defense in environmental conservation along our coasts, from their natural nutrient filtration to the barrier their reefs provide for our shores. Big Tree Oyster Co. owners Amy Belaire and Seth Gambill answer the call to a life in conservancy through their dedication to oyster mariculture— raising, farming and harvesting oysters— in Copano Bay. 

Born and raised in Rockport, this husband-and-wife team fostered their sensibilities for serving the coast through a life dedicated to learning more about it. By trade, Belaire is a conservation biologist and Gambill is a marine hydrographer and a professional boat builder.

Big Tree Oyster Co. oyster baskets in Copano Bay | Photography by Jason Page

“Our annual hometown celebration, OysterFest, celebrates everything oyster-related and it was a real highlight of our childhoods,” Belaire said of her earliest connection to life in coastal conservation. “Growing up here inspired a deep love in both of us for all things related to the coast, nature and environmental protection.”

The Gulf of Mexico sources the most oysters consumed in the United States, making their harvesting a multibillion-dollar industry that is uniquely sustainable and necessary for our coasts. A newer aquaculture industry, oyster mariculture has taken the forefront of farming on the Texas coast since a dedicated grant started up several years ago. Beginning summer of 2023, Big Tree was the seventh permitted mariculture operation in Texas.

“We love oyster mariculture because it is considered one of the most sustainable forms of food production in the world,” Belaire said, noting that oyster farms are regarded restorative for the environment due to the net benefits they provide to their ecosystem. “The oysters on our relatively small farm filter nearly 10 million gallons of water each day [and] do not require any food, fertilizer or chemicals.”

Big Tree farms and harvests its oysters through means utilized for decades on both the East and West Coasts. Oyster baskets float at the water’s surface, for ideal growing conditions and clean water, where they are tumbled and flipped, mimicking the tide. Oysters can be harvested year-round after being hand-selected for ideal shape and size.

“Oysters are really special because they take on the flavor of the environment where they are grown,” Belaire said. “Big Tree oysters are grown in clean, healthy waters with a relatively high salinity.” 

The result is an oyster featuring a “bright, clean and salty” profile with a slightly buttery and sweet finish.

Big Tree oysters are hand-selected and harvested when they reach a size of 2.5 to 3 inches. | Photography by Jason Page

While the products yielded in this process have an air of luxury and are undoubtedly delicious, they are also necessary components for contributing to a clean bay. Currently in its first harvest, Big Tree distributes locally and to San Antonio, while operations are ramping up for local pickup options in Rockport with plans to grow throughout the fall and into 2025.

“To us, growing oysters in this way is a true collaboration with nature,” Belaire said on Big Tree’s mission. “It’s our way of living out our commitment to a thriving and sustainable Texas coast.” 

Looking for some more local superstars? Check out our print article on the vintage store owner recently recognized by the State of Texas.