Researchers from Auburn University and LSU to introduce new oyster farming technique in Gulf

AUBURN - Researchers at Auburn University have teamed up with colleagues from Louisiana State University to launch a new oyster farming initiative that could help stimulate the economy in the northern Gulf of Mexico region.

The goal of the effort is industry adoption of 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.


“This could be an important addition to a traditional coastal industry,” said Auburn aquaculture and fisheries specialist Bill Walton. “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.”

Benefits of this new oyster farming technique include increased productivity, job creation and continued production of a safe, sustainable domestic oyster supply. 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.

“Through proper planning, off-bottom culture can work in harmony with other water uses and users,” said John Supan, Louisiana Sea Grant and LSU AgCenter oyster specialist. “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.”

Although this program was developed prior to the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the oil spill prompted increased 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.”

“Catastrophe causes change,” added Supan. “The challenge is to direct change to improve conditions, not to settle for status quo. This project will attempt 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, La., will provide oyster seed for this tri-state project. Program funding is provided by the Louisiana Sea Grant College Program and the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium.

A series of workshops is planned during 2011 and 2012, 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 Walton at billwalton@auburn.eduor Supan at jsupan@lsu.edu.

Contact: Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu)