Oyster production could rise with new method

By: Nikki Buskey – Staff Writer – dailycomet.com

HOUMA — Gulf of Mexico researchers hope a new oyster-farming technique will make the Louisiana industry more productive and get oystermen back to work more quickly after crops were wiped out during the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

As much as 50 percent of Louisiana’s oyster crop was wiped out this summer not by oil, but by freshwater diversions opened up by the state to attempt to flush oil out of wetlands east of the Mississippi River and in Barataria Bay.

Researchers John Supan, with the Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter, and Bill Walton, with Auburn University, aim to get Louisiana to adopt off-bottom oyster culturing methods to supplement the state’s traditional harvest. They say the method produces more efficient and faster harvests.

“I think it’s a part of the future of the Louisiana oyster business,” said Mike Voisin, owner of Motivatit Seafood in Houma and a member of the state’s Oyster Advisory Committee. “As we move forward with these coastal-restoration projects, I think it will allow us to grow faster and more productively.”

Traditionally, oysters are grown and harvested on reefs on the water bottom. Oyster larvae must attach to a hard surface on the bottom and build up their reefs. But oyster crops actually grow faster and more successfully when they’re suspended and grown on structures high in the water column because they’re better protected from predators that typically pick off an oyster crop. They’re also exposed to a better water flow, and the oysters feed better and their risk of being fouled by sediment or algae growth is reduced.

“We’re a bottom-farming community now, but what you get is what’s left. We’re getting the crumbs on the bottom and we still get a lot of oysters,” Voisin said.

Many other states and countries that farm oysters have already employed the technique, Voisin said.

Oysters that would typically take two to three years to grow to market size can be grown in one year with off-bottom culture, Voisin said.

“Through proper planning, off-bottom culture can work in harmony with other water uses and users,” Supan said. “It can support both part- and full-time incomes, just like natural fisheries, but with greater control over the natural variability that dominates bottom harvesting.”

The project developing off-bottom oyster cultivation began before the Deepwater Horizon spill, but with the major effects the freshwater wipeout had on the oyster industry, the researchers said it’s cultivated more interest in the project.

“We have received more calls and questions about oyster farming in the last four months than we have combined over the prior 12 months,” Walton said. “The spill has created a window of opportunity where traditional oystermen are eager, even desperate, to find ways to get back to working on the water as soon as possible.”

Voisin added that the new farming techniques will aid oystermen as the state moves forward to curb coastal erosion and build major freshwater diversions that will change salinities in most of the major basins and make oyster farming impossible in some traditional areas. That’s because it’s possible the off-bottom oyster growing structures could be mobile, and they could be moved when freshwater diversions are turned on because the river is high, Voisin said.

The spill has also created a source of money to implement the oyster cultivation program, Voisin said. Instead of just seeding and rehabilitating traditional oyster grounds, the state can research productive new techniques to catch Louisiana up with the rest of the country.

“Catastrophe causes change,” Supan said. “The challenge is to direct change to improve conditions, not to settle for status quo. This project will attempt to do just that.”

Both the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island, Ala., and the Sea Grant Bivalve Hatchery at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Marine Research Laboratory on Grand Isle will provide oyster seed for the project. Wildlife and Fisheries officials are also working with Plaquemines Parish to develop plans for a facility that would raise oysters to larval stage, called an oyster “spat,” to be used by the industry to help promote oyster growth.

A series of workshops are planned for 2011 and 2012 to teach oystermen the new technique, addressing issues such as appropriate culture systems, oyster seed stock, growing market-quality oysters and developing practices and regulations in collaboration with state agencies. For more information, contact Supan at jsupan@lsu.edu or Walton at billwalton@auburn.edu.

Seafood interests post big week

By: Jeremy Alford – Capitol Correspondent – dailycomet.com

BATON ROUGE — From new federal programs for aquaculture to an upstart business model for oyster harvesters and surprising data on imported catfish, there was no shortage of gains this week for commercial seafood interests.

For starters, small aquaculture businesses — oysters, crawfish and the like — are now eligible for special loans from the federal government.

More specifically, portions of the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 are going on the books, including an Economic Injury Disaster Loan program known as EIDL.

In the 1980s, Congress repealed Small Business Administration disaster assistance for all agricultural businesses.

SBA was prohibited from providing assistance to these industries as it was assumed that they would always be covered by other federal agencies like the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

However, recent Gulf Coast disasters have demonstrated gaps between USDA and SBA disaster assistance, said Sen. Mary Landrieu, a New Orleans Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

For example, in 2005 south Louisiana was hit hard by both hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Aquaculture businesses, meaning many crawfish farmers or those with fish farms, were ineligible for both USDA disaster assistance and SBA disaster loans.

More recently, oyster farmers were ineligible for the EIDL program following the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster.

“Disasters can and will strike at any moment,” Landrieu said. “We must ensure that the federal government is better prepared and has the tools necessary to respond quickly and effectively following a disaster.”

She added that this “common-sense fix,” included in the jobs act bill, will clear up federal law to now give small aquaculture businesses a lifeline if they are hit by a disaster.

“Never again will they be told they are ‘too agricultural’ for SBA and ‘not agricultural enough’ for USDA,” Landrieu said. “Louisiana businesses know too well the bureaucracies that stand in the way when disaster strikes, and this clarification puts the SBA in a better position to support them in the future.”

In related aquaculture news, the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries unveiled a new oyster farming initiative Wednesday that is flourishing in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

A collaboration between researchers from Louisiana State University and Auburn University, it focuses on off-bottom oyster culture to supplement the traditional harvest.

Historically, oysters are grown on and harvested from reefs on the water bottom. In this new process, oysters are grown suspended in the water column.

Benefits of this new oyster farming technique include increased productivity, job creation and continued production of a safe, sustainable domestic oyster supply, according to John Supan, an oyster specialist with Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter, and Bill Walton, Auburn University aquaculture and fisheries specialist.

Off-bottom culture also protects oysters from predators, provides a means to reduce fouling and allows complete harvests of planted oyster seed, a major advantage over traditional oyster harvesting.

LDWF’s Fisheries Research Laboratory in Grand Isle provides research and hatchery space to researchers from the Louisiana Sea Grant program.

Department officials are also working with local officials in Plaquemines Parish to develop plans for a facility, which would provide space for oyster spat to develop before they are utilized by industry.

“This could be an important addition to a traditional coastal industry,” Walton said. “It’s clean, green and energy efficient. And it provides business opportunities to those already in the oyster industry as well as other coastal residents.”

A series of workshops are being planned for 2011 and 2012. They will address issues such as appropriate culture systems, oyster seed stock, growing market-quality oysters and developing practices and regulations in collaboration with state agencies.

Finally, there’s new data out this week on the safety of seafood from overseas.

According to an investigation broadcast by the NBC Today Show Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s inspection system for imported seafood is so weak that many Americans are eating foreign catfish and other seafood tainted with chemicals that could cause cancer, birth defects and other serious health problems.

NBC aired video showing “dirty sewage water used to raise seafood in Vietnam — the fish pumped with toxic antibiotics and banned drugs just to keep them alive, boosting production and driving down costs.”

It also reported that although 80 percent of the fish consumed in America is raised overseas, the FDA inspects only two percent of all imports.

The U.S. Congress approved legislation almost 2 1/2 years ago that would provide much greater protection for American consumers by shifting inspection and regulation of catfish from the FDA to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has more stringent inspection and safety programs.

The Obama administration has yet to enforce the new protections.

“The administration’s refusal to act is all the more shocking because of President Obama’s repeated claims that consumer safety is one of the highest priorities of his administration,” said Joey Lowery, president of the Catfish Farmers of America. “The U.S. catfish industry welcomes these tougher standards and protections which would apply to all catfish — domestic and foreign.”

Regional seafood groups like the Southern Shrimp Alliance and the Louisiana Shrimp Association have long sought stricter testing and regulation of foreign, farm-raised shrimp.

View the full NBC Today Show news investigation at this link:


For more information on the new oyster harvesting process, contact Supan at jsupan@lsu.eduor Walton at billwalton@auburn.edu.

Researchers: Grow oysters in suspended bags


BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU and Auburn University researchers say a new approach to growing oysters — in mesh bags strung between posts — could boost harvests and create jobs.

The “long-line system” is used to grow oysters commercially in Australia and now it is being used at the Fisheries Research Laboratory in Grand Isle.

John Supan, an oyster expert with the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program, said the technique could allowLouisiana commercial fishermen to become oyster farmers or help existing oyster farmers to increase their businesses.

Oysters can be grown in salty water when they are strung from posts because they are out of reach from predators like oyster drills and black drum, which lurk on the bottom where oysters grow naturally.

The oysters in the research project reach market size in around 15 months, compared to two to three years for reef-grown oysters, Supan said. That’s because the research project oysters are sterile and more of theirenergy goes into growth than reproduction.

The survival rates for the bag-grown oysters are much higher than for reef oysters, Supan added. Close to 100 percent of the seed oysters in the bags survive, compared to roughly a third of that, at best, for reef-grown oysters.

Bill Walton, an Auburn University aquaculture and fisheries specialist, said “off-bottom” culture could be an important addition to the traditional oyster industry.

“It’s clean, green and energy-efficient,” Walton said.

Supan wants to work with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries Department and other state agencies to create zones for aquaculture parks or marine enterprise zones, areas of water designated for this specific use.

“It’s like applying industrial park concepts to the water,” Supan said.

In designating the marine enterprise zones, state agencies would take into account coastal restoration plans, the locations of pipelines and wells, wildlife refuges, and areas affected by pollution, Supan said.

Coastal communities would then hold town hall meetings to decide if they want to put in the aquaculture parks, Supan said.

“So you know, the shrimpers could come in and say, ‘Well, let’s not put it there. That’s where I push for shrimp,’” Supan said.

“The ideal entity to start up an aquaculture park is a port commission, in my opinion,” Supan said. “That’s because port commissions are responsible for private navigational aids in their region. They’re responsible for economic development, and they’re made up of local people that the governor appoints.”

Researchers work on new oyster farming method in Mexican Gulf

By: Natalia Real – fis.com

Researchers for the Louisiana State University (LSU) and Auburn University are collaborating on a new oyster farming initiative in the Gulf of Mexico. The project aims for the industry to adopt off-bottom oyster culture to work with traditional farming methods, which entails raising oysters on reefs and harvesting them on the sea floor.

The new technique will result in oysters being raised in mesh bags suspended from lines, a process that increases their survival rates and lets them grow faster.

“By doing that we can get nearly 100 percent survival in areas where you traditionally can’t farm oysters,” said Dr John Supan, Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter oyster specialist, Fox8 News reports.

Other advantages include higher productivity, job creation and ongoing production of a safe and sustainable national oyster supply, said Supan and Bill Walton, Auburn University aquaculture and fisheries specialist. Also, this way oysters are sheltered from predators, there is a means to lessen fouling and complete harvests of planted oyster seed are enabled constituting a major improvement over traditional methods.

Supan added that with adequate planning, the new technique can coexist with other water uses and users without problems.

Because of how the oysters are bred, researchers say the product will remain fat year-round and taste just as good as traditionally harvested oysters.

BP’s oil spill earlier this year has boosted interest in oyster farming.

“We have received more calls and questions about oyster farming in the last four months than we have combined over the prior 12 months,” said Walton. “The spill has created a window of opportunity where traditional oystermen are eager, even desperate, to find ways to get back to working on the water as soon as possible.”

Oyster seed will be provided by the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island, Alabama, and the Sea Grant Bivalve Hatchery at the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF), Marine Research Laboratory on Grand Isle, Louisiana.

Funding for the project comes from the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program at LSU and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium by the National Sea Grant College Programme’s Marine Aquaculture Initiative, a national grant competition.

LDWF is also cooperating with officials in Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana to create plans for a plant that would give space for oysters in the larval stage to grow before being employed by the industry.

“Louisiana’s oyster fishery has been hit with major natural and man-made disasters in the last five years and has grown wiser for it,” stated LDWF Assistant Secretary Randy Pausina.

Go to: Auburn University Post-Gulf Oil Spill Oyster Research to view the video on oyster research!

Aquaculture Workforce-Development Needs Addressed Through Distance Learning

Beyond Auburn – Fall 2009

The Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture at Auburn University, the recognized world leader in aquaculture education and training for many years, is now on the cutting edge of global workforce-development training. Its new non-credit Certificate for Aquaculture Professionals, or CAP, is provided worldwide via distance education.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations recognized the need to develop this global training program, citing increases in both global population and seafood demand per capita.

Global aquaculture production will need to double by 2030 to keep pace with demand, and in most countries, there are already an insufficient number of trained workers in the aquaculture field.

Government agencies require specialists who are knowledgeable about aquaculture activities and can evaluate, develop, and improve aquaculture projects. Aquaculture ventures need specialists in current aquaculture techniques and procedures. Without these trained specialists, government and industry needs are not met, and the potential economic opportunities of the industry are not fully realized.

The CAO program targets four primary educational markets: government agencies, universities, privately owned farms, and individual aquaculture professionals. Each client can benefit from training that will help build the knowledge to perform industry duties with the highest proficiency standards.

Guided by Antonio Garza deYta and Troy Hahn, the CAP program and the Distance Learning & Outreach Technology office have worked to support fisheries and allied aquaculture faculty in the design and production of online modules to deliver program content in multiple languages. The content is structured into ,modules such as water quality, hatchery management, and genetics and breeding.

Students access the content and are assessed via Auburn’s web-based learning management system, Blackboard.

The CAP program was conceptualized and planned in 2008, module development began early in 2009, and program leaders are currently piloting CAP with aquaculture professionals in Mexico.

The Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture is capitalizing on the ability to develop instructional materials, translate them into a variety of languages, and deliver them to multiple audiences across the globe simultaneously to extend the reach of its workforce-development offerings.

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