Risk Management

Preparing for Hurricanes

Hurricanes are one of the primary hazards for oyster farms along the Gulf of Mexico. From 2010 to 2020, 23 tropical storms or hurricanes affected the Texas coast. Hurricane season runs from June 1 to November 30, although Texas is prone to early season hurricanes whereas Florida tends to have more severe late-season storms. For off-bottom mariculture, hurricanes pose inherent risks. Winds, storm surge, and decreased salinity from flooding can cause oyster death and damage equipment and farm infrastructure. In addition, hurricane preparation and recovery can be labor intensive, requiring more help and incurring higher labor costs.

Developing a Plan

The key to limiting potential hurricane losses is preparation. An oyster grower’s best defense is a well-developed plan, from equipment installation through post-storm recovery. Use the following checklist as a guide for key elements of a comprehensive hurricane plan.

Risk Assessment

  • Evaluate your farm’s site-specific risks for wind, storm surge, and flooding by reviewing characteristics of previous tropical storms and hurricanes that have landed nearby.

  • Check the NOAA National Hurricane Center to see records of past storms and use that information to decide what preparations are necessary for your site.

Business Information

  • Ensure that essential business documents (insurance policies, financial documents) are stored safely as hard copies (due to potential electricity loss) and in electronic files and that key personnel know where and how to access them.

Farm Information

  • Include farm information including coordinates, maps, and diagrams of layout and gear so that it is readily accessible because the farm may be difficult to locate after the storm.

  • Keep oyster inventory records up to date. You should be able to tell how many culture units you had before the storm and the number, age, and size of oysters. Insurance, loans, and disaster assistance programs require these records.

  • Track using Microsoft Excel spreadsheets or apps like Oyster Tracker or SmartOysters.

  • Keep equipment inventory records up to date. Note vehicles, boats, motors, and all equipment used on farms, at shore-based facilities, or at shellfish processing plants.

  • Take time-stamped photos or videos of inventory before and after the storm.

  • Check the U.S. Department of Agriculture Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program for record-keeping tools and fact sheets.

Farm Employees

  • Clearly identify essential personnel and their roles before, during, and after the storm.

  • Write an operational plan including key services, equipment, storm preparation and farm reopening protocols, records storage, and agreements with supplies and contractors.

  • Show evacuation routes, re-entry requirements, shelter-in-place plans, and alternate reporting locations.

  • Cross-train employees so that they can perform tasks outside their normal roles in the event of an emergency. For instance, most employees should be able to assist with securing gear.


  • Prepare an emergency contact list (employees, customers, suppliers, etc.) and keep phone numbers up to date.

  • Develop a plan to communicate with the media, customers, or public with pre-written messages and plans for how to distribute information on messaging platforms.

Insurance policies

  • Contact insurance agents before hurricane season begins to review coverage for flood, wind, fire, theft, general liability, catastrophic loss, loss of income, and product liability.

Preparing and Practicing the Plan

Once you have a plan in place, you must be prepared to put it into action. Employees must be familiar with the plan and trained in the tasks they may have to complete in an emergency. Equipment and supplies should be stocked, repaired, and stored properly so that the farm can keep running during supply shortages.

Water-Based Preparation

  • Practice storm plans, including securing and recovering gear in rough water.

  • Used timed practice drills to know how long it will take to complete tasks.

  • Know how long it takes to get back to the boat ramp or dock from the farm.

Land-Based Preparation

  • Equipment and surplus gear may need to be moved to higher ground during a storm, so it’s important to have a plan for where to move items, how much space is required, and how much time it will take to move everything.

  • Update inventory lists.

  • Check and stockpile equipment and supplies.

Recommended Equipment and Supplies

  • NOAA weather radio and extra batteries

  • Mobile communications-cell phones, hand-held portable radios, chargers, extra battery packs

  • Camera with date and time stamp

  • First aid supplies

  • Fire extinguisher

  • Flashlights and extra batteries

  • Spare battery and battery charger for boat

  • Fuel and oil properly stored, fuel filters

  • Tool kit

  • SCUBA gear (keep tanks full)

  • Pump with hoses, winch, crane, or hoist

  • Extra anchors, ropes, lines

  • Spare caps, clips, baskets, bags, bungee cords, cable ties

  • Lumber, shutters, tarps, tie-downs for land-based facilities

  • Generator of sufficient size for operational needs (serviced and tested)

  • Potable water and storage containers as hurricanes come when it is hot

Implementing the Plan

Hurricane planning should be incorporated into the earliest stages of setting up and maintaining a farm. When in doubt, over plan. Regular maintenance to keep lines and equipment in good condition, free of debris, and properly secured is a year-round task essential to hurricane preparedness. All infrastructure and gear on the farm should be labeled with secure tags that include grower’s name, phone number, lease number, and license or certification number; this can help with recovering gear that is washed away by a storm.

Storms can change intensity and path quickly, so growers should continuously monitor weather reports to determine when to implement the hurricane plan. A tiered approach helps organize hurricane preparations, assigning tasks by how soon the storm will land in your area. Florida Sea Grant created the following color code system to guide hurricane plan implementation. Click on the PDFs below to see detailed implementation checklists for different types of oyster operations.


  • As soon as hurricane or storm has formed in the Gulf Begin storm preparations: check stocking densities and examine lines for chafing, especially near clips.

  • Make sure bags/cages are secure.

  • Remove any and all biofouling (minimize wear on line).


36 hours before expected landfall

    • Recheck for biofouling.

    • Decide whether or not to sink floating bags/cages.

      • Decide NOT to sink: Allow slack on the main line so cages and bags can ride over the storm surge.

      • Decide to sink: Sink with pontoons facing down to minimize sediment on oysters. Pontoons should be filled with water and recapped to avoid sediment infiltration.

    • Prepare ALS cages.

      • Make sure long-lines are taut and all cages are secured to the long-line.

      • Lower all cages to the lowest riser clips position to minimize any wave action.


Storm warning has been issued

    • Perform final storm check.

    • Get out safely.

After the Storm

Once the storm has passed and it is safe to return to the farm, navigate slowly to avoid debris potentially submerged in the water.

  • For insurance purposes, take photos of the farm before anything is moved.

  • Begin taking inventory of gear and resurface your gear and oysters.

  • Lift oysters from the bottom and remove any excess sediment because it can increase mortality.

  • Recheck all your lines and gear for possible damage during the storm.

  • Collect and return any derelict gear to its owners.