Melissa Schneider, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium
(DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala.) — In an effort to improve survival of oyster larvae grown at the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory, scientists are adopting innovative techniques developed by John Supan of the Louisiana Sea Grant Oyster Research Laboratory. These high-density larval culture techniques will allow for tighter control of production conditions.
This effort to help the new off-bottom oyster farming industry in the northern Gulf of Mexico is being funded by the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission with support from the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium and Louisiana Sea Grant.
Currently, Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory is one of only a handful of hatcheries producing oyster larvae and seed in the Gulf of Mexico. It is the primary provider of seed for the off-bottom oyster aquaculture industry in Alabama. In addition, it provides seed and eyed larvae to growers and researchers in the region. In 2014, for example, the shellfish lab produced over 188 million eyed larvae and over 12 million oyster seed.
Unfortunately, beginning in July 2015, scientists began experiencing significant problems with larval survival, including complete crashes of larvae. These difficulties have continued, with the shellfish lab struggling to produce eyed larvae for spat-on-shell projects, as well as enough seed to meet current orders. These production issues have continued despite intense and ongoing troubleshooting efforts.
“The Sea Grant network, and specifically the partnership between Louisiana Sea Grant and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant, has been critical to getting off-bottom oyster farming started as a new industry in the region,” said Bill Walton, an oyster aquaculture extension specialist with Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant. “We rely on each other to solve problems, such as using Dr. Supan’s techniques where oyster larvae can be raised on a much smaller footprint which will allow us to better control variables like water temperature.”
The new techniques should immediately provide a near-doubling in production capacity at the shellfish lab. They also will help increase annual production by at least 25 percent and ultimately allow the opportunity for the private sector to grow oyster seed.
As part of this regional team effort, Louisiana Sea Grant is loaning the shellfish lab six 400-liter tanks for the high-density culture of oyster larvae, eight bag culture tubes for production of micro-algae to feed oyster larvae, a pasteurizer and a heat exchanger for supplying clean seawater to the algae cultures.
“Auburn University and LSU’s oyster research programs have been collaborating together for nearly 20 years, when we produced seed oysters at our Grand Isle hatchery for Auburn before they built their current facility,” said Supan, who also serves as LSU’s and the LSU AgCenter’s oyster specialist. “This new project is just another example of our regional approach.”
“The equipment on loan from Louisiana Sea Grant allows the shellfish lab to use the savings to invest in infrastructure to support the new hatchery capabilities,” said Scott Rikard, facility and hatchery manager at the shellfish lab. “The expanded capabilities will help meet the ever increasing demand for oyster larvae and seed from researchers, cooperating agencies and, most of all, the growing off-bottom shellfish farming industry. The equipment will be put to use in the upcoming hatchery season, starting around the first of May.”