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Shellfish scientist talk about future of oysters

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By Mark Scohier

 

A room in Cedar Key’s Kirkpatrick Marine Labaratory Building was packed with locals last week eager to hear about new developments in the oystering industry.

Despite the news of oyster decline in the area, University of Florida extension agent Leslie Sturmer told the audience that the meeting was mostly to focus on alternative methods used by oyster farmers in other parts of the country.

Auburn University Professor Bill Walton, one of the meetings guest speakers, said oyster farmers might do well to start experimenting with off-bottom oyster farming, a method in which oysters are grown in containers held above the ocean floor.

He said the technique  has many advantages, such as promoting faster growth, increasing survival, improving shell shape, consistency and making “fouling” easier to control.

“Off-bottom farming has been tried (in the area), but it’s never taken hold,” he said. The method would be especially valuable in creating “Niche market” oysters, which could allow the region to become more competitive. Niche market oysters could fetch as much as 50 cents per oyster, more than twice what Cedar Key oysters are sold for.

“I think the Southeast has plenty of yuppies who would pay this price.”

John Supan, another guest speaker, said oyster farmers might need to start looking at alternative types of oysters. Lots of new breeds being developed do well at resisting diseases such as Dermo, which is currently being blamed for die-offs in Apalachicola. Many varieties also grow faster, he said.

“My latest motto: Change isn’t coming, it’s already here.”

For more information, contact Leslie Sturmer at LNST@ufl.edu.