The primary goal of this project is to develop a number of techniques that can be applied to improve the quality and marketability of oysters harvested from the Gulf of Mexico to help the industry overcome a number of economic, regulatory and biological challenges. <P>
Specifically, the objectives of this project are to: <OL> <LI> Test the effect of genetic manipulations (e.g., breeding selected lines, triploidy) upon the growth, survival and marketability of oysters; <LI> Quantify the effect of different culture techniques (gear types, processing regimes, etc.) upon growth, survival and marketability of oysters; <LI> Develop harvest methods and/or certification protocols designed to ensure food safety; <LI> Identify opportunities for niche marketing and value-added processes to enhance the marketability of Gulf of Mexico oysters.
NON-TECHNICAL SUMMARY: Shellfish farming may be a viable near-shore domestic aquaculture industry that can provide a large economic boon to coastal communities in the North Central Gulf of Mexico region, both to the producers as well as the local support industries. This can be a critical component when fisheries have slowed or been closed. Moreover, oyster farming could likely complement the wild-harvest oyster fishery, given that the wide majority of wild-harvested product is intended for the shucked market rather than the half shell market. In addition, shellfish farming may help watermen maintain traditional ways of life, keeping them working on the water even when wild-harvest declines or the fishery is closed as it is currently in Alabama. Lastly, shellfish farming has widely been recognized as providing important environmental benefits, particularly improving water quality.
APPROACH: This research will be conducted primarily in Alabama, in collaboration with industry members, including current partnerships with three oyster lease holders. As opportunities arise to work with industry members or academic colleagues in other states, however, the project may expand to other states within the Gulf of Mexico region. The majority of the work will be based at the Auburn University Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island, AL. Manipulated Breeding:To measure the effect of triploidy upon oyster yield and grow-out to market size, we will analyze differences among oyster varieties raised at different lease sites by deploying replicate cages, each stocked with replicate bags of each variety in the fall. Production Methods and Techniques: To measure differences among culture methods in terms of oyster production, research will be conducted at commercial lease sites to test culture methods at production scale. In addition, to provide statistically rigorous comparisons of culture methods, full factorial field tests of various culture methods will be conducted at a subset of the sites. Current work is exploring four types of commercially available aquaculture gear. Marketing Efforts: It will be essential to gauge consumer response to any potential improvements to marketed oysters, to gauge both consumer recognition and willingness to pay. Therefore, this work will be done in collaboration with Dr. Terrill Hanson, and other collaborators with interest in shellfish marketing (e.g., Dr. Chuck Adams of the University of Florida), as well as industry members such as Chris Nelson of Bon Secour Fisheries and Jim Gossen of Louisiana Fine Foods. Food Safety: To address the expressed industry desire for alternatives to PHT, the efficacy of alternative methods of harvest that meet FDA standards will be tested. First, working with Dr. Cova Arias (Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures), the effectiveness of relays of oysters to naturally high salinity areas as a means of reducing V. vulnificus abundance within the oysters will be tested. Oysters provided to commercial processors during the summer months will be relayed to high salinity sites (e.g., western end of Dauphin Island.