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Eventually the experiment could lead to farming methods involving only two people. (Photo: Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures, www.ag.auburn.edu)

Oyster ranching tested in Alabama

  (UNITED STATES, 10/19/2010)

Scientists at Auburn University’s Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island are working with volunteers to see if oyster farming can become profitable in coastal Alabama. The venture, also called oyster ranching, has increased in importance in the BP oil spill’s aftermath. 

Although farming oysters would not take the place of their wild counterparts, it would provide the region with an economic push.
Oyster hatchery (Photo: Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures)

A demonstration site located at Point aux Pines shows four rows consisting of 200,000 oysters floating in wire cages in the water. 

“These aren’t free-range oysters. I call it oyster farming but it’s almost oyster ranching,” commented Bill Walton, assistant professor in Auburn University’s Department of Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures and an Alabama Cooperative Extension System specialist, reports Press-Register. 

“If there were any wild oysters living below the baskets, they’d be eating the same stuff, growing in the same water. They would taste the same. But the ones in cages are protected, confined. It’s like putting them in a pasture to eat,” he explained. 

 “We don’t feed them, and we don’t medicate them,” he added.

Spawned in hatcheries from native Alabama oysters, the oysters get transferred to cages once they are large enough to not slip through the holes.

When oyster drills began ravaging oysters in Mobile Bay two years ago, people started getting more interested in oyster farming. Drills penetrate the shells of wild oysters and eat the meat.

The baskets both block the drills and also help combat fouling - mud, weeds and other elements that clog up the oysters and either suffocate them or make them less esthetically appealing. 

These problems are skirted by hoisting the farming baskets weekly on their supports and exposing them to sunlight for a few hours to kill the seaweed. 

Mesh containers used to hold oysters. (Photo: Fisheries & Allied Aquacultures)

The ability to remove the oysters from the water might have saved plenty of oysters during the oil spill if the oil had arrived at Point aux Pines, Walton said.

“I was worried in May, not knowing what we’d see out there, but I was down here every week during the oil spill and we just never saw signs of oil up here. We didn’t get clobbered in the coastal waters the way we did on our beaches,” he said. 

However, because oysters are eaten raw, the waters around them are regularly tested. 

Thus far the oil signature levels usually “aren’t even detectable,” Walton told. 

Point aux Pines oysters are currently raised in waters controlled by landowner Steve Crockett. He noted that eventually the experiment could lead to farming methods involving only two or three people, and that these farms could gather data useful to the wild oyster harvesting sector.

Related article:

- Oil spill puts oyster industry in jeopardy 

By Natalia Real
[email protected]
www.fis.com


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