At the Murder Point oyster lease in Portersville Bay, Alabama, virginica oysters are grown in baskets that hang from lines so that their formation and growth patterns can be closely monitored, making a more attractive Gulf oyster for chefs and enthusiasts.
Baby oysters start out in baskets about 25% full, which is usually about 1,500 oysters. As they grow over time, they are broken down into more baskets to ensure they're never stocked more than 25% full, continuing until there about 100 oysters in a single basket.
An oysterman works to harvest oysters on an adjacent lease in Portersville Bay.
Lane Zirlott works with his family to run Murder Point Oyster Company. Here Zirlott and Jason Lee work to grade oysters to determine which are ready to harvest and which will go back in baskets where they will continue to grow.
The Zirlotts take pride in creating the "prettiest oysters" worthy of being served in a white tablecloth restaurant. "We're perfectionists," Rosa Zirlott says.
Brent Zirlott was a career shrimper before starting Murder Point Oyster Company with his wife, Rosa, and son Lane.
Miranda Eubanks, right, her father, Louis Graham, and other family members harvest oysters from "oyster grows," another method for growing a more controlled oyster, near the Zirlotts' lease.
Lane Zirlott measures each oyster to ensure the shell is at least 3 inches long before harvesting for the market. "That's what people want," he says.
The Zirlotts call their oyster knives "shanks" as a play off of their company name, Murder Point Oyster Company. They're named after an actual spot on nearby Mon Louis Island, where a dispute over oyster beds is said to have ended in murder. The Zirlotts have embraced the lore with their slogan: "Oysters worth killing for."
Oyster fishermen use a small barge-style boat with a grading machine on board to determine whether the oysters are suitable to be harvested.