The purchase of the Aqua Green hatchery facility will provide USM with the resources to work towards producing 10 billion oyster larvae annually.
University receives USD 7,7M to boost oyster population in Mississippi
Tuesday, January 03, 2017, 22:40 (GMT + 9)
A project being developed by the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) together with a private hatchery to supply oyster larvae has received USD 7.7 M from the Oyster Restoration and Resiliency Council, adding to USD 3 M provided by the Mississippi Legislature.
The University plans to buy the hatchery and aquaculture facility to lead oyster restoration efforts to boost the state of Mississippi’s oyster population and grow the state’s Blue Economy.
Nearly two years ago, Gov. Phil Bryant formed the Council to study how the state could revitalize its once-prolific oyster harvest.
The Council identified Aqua Green as the recommended hatchery based on its inland location out of harms’ way of hurricanes and tropical systems and its existing infrastructure.
It should be recalled that about eight years ago, Aqua Green had been instructed to find a way to mass-produce marine fish of commercial importance, such as cobia or pompano. But this type of large-scale aquaculture is not yet feasible in the region.
The hatchery owners contacted the USM to take advantage of the facilities and to see what the two could do in partnership.
The Oyster Council, which included about six members from the USM, in determining its findings looked into the issues and examined other areas that had some success with growing their oyster populations, including Chesapeake Bay in Maryland and areas of Washington State.
Aqua Green's facility involved incorporates nine structures, with a combined footprint of approximately 99,000 square feet on more than 47 acres of land. It serves as a land-based aquaculture research, hatchery and nursery centre. Capable of year-round operation, Aqua Green has the ability to maintain appropriate salinity levels, recirculate artificial seawater and recapture salt for reuse.
Gordon Cannon, USM vice president for research, said, "Before Katrina we were doing a half-million sacks per year, and I think last year we did something like 40,000 sacks in one year," Cannon said.
"And from what I understand, talking to the old folks along the Coast, oysters have always been the base for our seafood industry," he added.
The half-million larvae the university already has produced have gone through various trial runs using artificial seawater and recirculating aquaculture systems, which is the first time both components have been used for oyster larvae aquaculture on a potential production scale.
Over time, the university hopes to see a sustainable and reliable supply of oyster larvae to support replenishment of public and private harvest reefs as well as natural reefs in non-harvestable areas — and the oyster larvae that will eventually end up back in coastal waters are derived from native animals.
"All of our brood stock comes from Mississippi waters," Cannon emphasised. "Right now we're focusing on what we know will grow in our waters."
Other expansions of the USM aquaculture programs include blue crabs, fin fish and shrimp.