Interest in oyster culture has recently been spurred on by decreased supplies from the fisheries and higher dockside prices, resulting in a favorable economic outlook. Additionally, the infrastructure provided by the hard clam culture industry supports development of new species for culture as well as serves as a model for Florida’s oyster industry in their recovery efforts. To assist in these efforts, the Florida Governor and Cabinet began in 2013 approving modification of clam leases, in which only six inches above the bottom substrate are allowed for culture activities, enabling growers full use of the water column for culturing oysters. Currently, over 45 lease modifications for oyster cultivation have been approved in Dixie, Franklin and Levy Counties. In addition, new oyster leases are being developed in Wakulla County.
To help establish the potential for oyster culture in Florida, a project funded by NOAA National Sea Grant will allow for large-scale evaluation of an oyster breeding process to local conditions by new oyster growers. Natural triploid technology results in oyster seed with three sets of chromosomes. Triploid seed, as it develops, is sterile and will not reproduce (like seedless watermelon), creating potential production advantages. In contrast to other states, Florida’s subtropical water temperatures result in a prolonged spawning season for oysters. This project establishes multiple demonstration sites at commercial shellfish aquaculture leases, allowing other clam growers and interested individuals to observe this technology, as well as the harvested product, and understand the necessary investments of time and money.
During July and August, 12 growers in 5 counties each received 2500 triploid and diploid oyster seed to document their performance under commercial conditions and quantify effects of different culture gear and growing environments. These growers will receive seed again this winter to determine differences in seasonal harvests. In addition, a similar number of oysters will be grown at the UF experimental lease off Cedar Key to compare planting densities. The project team includes researchers from UF (Charles Sims) and Florida Atlantic University (Susan Laramore), who will evaluate the sensory attributes of cultured triploid oysters compared to diploid oysters and assess oyster health. Marine economist Chuck Adams and a UF graduate student will examine the basic financial characteristics of the oyster culture process.
Follow the progress of this project by visiting this news blog or the UF/IFAS Shellfish Aquaculture Extension’s Facebook page.