Oyster Aquaculture in the United States
The two largest regions for oysters culture in the United States are the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest. Gulf Coast states largely contain extensive leased areas that are farmed using natural spatfall.
In Louisiana, leases were formerly planted using shell of the Rangia clam dredged from Lake Ponchartrain,
but this has been curtailed. Since the industry raises many oysters and has plants that shuck many of them for cooking products, the shell is available to be replaced on the leases as clean cultch for catching more larval oysters.
The west coast of the United States, especially in upper California, Oregon, and Washington, produce many oysters. The native Olympia oyster, a small animal that requires around 2,000 to make a gallon of meats, was severely reduced in quantity during the early decades of the twentieth century. Growers had to decide whether to get out of the business or raise another species.
They turned to Japan and imported seed of Crassostra gigas. The industry was able to rebuild, using this imported seed for many years. During World War II, however, this was not possible and the industry created new paths afterwards. The use of hatcheries became commonplace and the industry grew several species of oyster for their markets.
Many Pacific coast grounds are intertidal. Tides that range ten (10) feet or more are fairly common. This allows growers to use equipment that would not be available in areas with much smaller tides, like the Chesapeake and coastal bays. It also allows oysters in many areas to be picked by hand, with crews working during the cycle of low tide to harvest animals that are then retrieved by vessels during high tide. It also allows the grower to see the condition of his crop regularly, which aids in planting, harvesting, and overall management of the grounds.
Growers use a variety of different methods for growing oysters, depending upon their area, species, and requirements. Some use their grounds for nursery areas, placing shell bags with juvenile oysters in the areas to attain growth while protected prior to final planting. Some raise a variety of species which may include several from Asia, European flat oysters, and even the Eastern oyster.
Some growers use their grounds for the production of Manila clams or the extremely large Geoduck clam, which takes a great deal of work to produce but has a very lucrative return in the marketplace.
A major innovation in the Pacific industry was that of “remote setting”. This is essentially a logical division of labor between the technical work of the hatchery and the more available labor of the grower. In remote setting, the hatchery concentrates on producing larvae which are shipped to the grower who uses them in the setting operation. The key factor in the success of remote setting was the finding that oyster larvae close to setting could live for several days out of water and that, during that time, they would cease developing.
Kept cool and damp, they could then be shipped hundreds of miles from the hatchery. This allowed hatcheries to use their technically trained staff for maximum larval production while the growers used field crews for the bagging, setting, and nursery operations.
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