Improving Oyster Aquaculture in Rhode Island: Development and Testing of the “Rhodoyster”
Oyster aquaculture is the largest segment of aquaculture in Southern New England. In Rhode Island (RI), 25 farmers generate 97% of total production with a value of almost $750,000 in 2005. The highest risk on oyster farms is disease. To counter the impact of disease, strains of oysters resistant to several major diseases have been developed through selective breeding. However, few of these strains are of New England origin or have been tested in local conditions. In a previous project, we have tested the performance of two disease resistant oyster strains and a local RI strain in 3 RI farms. The goal of this project is to stimulate the growth of the oyster aquaculture industry in southern New England by: a) developing the Rhodoyster, a disease-resistant strain well-adapted to local growing conditions, consisting of a hybrid of a local strain and a disease-resistant strain; and b) involving at least 25 of 200 oyster farmers in the RI region in evaluating the performance of this and other oyster disease-resistant strains. Direct participation of farmers in strain testing, combined with several outreach and extension activities including on-site training and workshops on best management practices and health management will encourage at least 11 oyster farmers in RI to adopt at least one of the following practices: 1) using more than one strain in their farms, therefore potentially avoiding catastrophic losses due to disease (increased diversification); and 2) using at least one strain that is disease-resistant and well-adapted to local conditions, leading to a 10% increase in yield. Availability of research data on strain performance in a large number of farms through two growing seasons will also help farmers in New England area to make wise decisions on strain choice.
Performance target. By the end of this project, the development of a new oyster strain well-suited to the RI region will be initiated. 11 of the 200 farmers in the RI area will adopt at least one of the following practices: 1) using more than one strain in their farms, therefore potentially avoiding catastrophic losses due to disease (increased diversification); and 2) using at least one strain that is disease-resistant and well-adapted to local conditions, leading to a 10% increase in yield.
- Milestone 1. 200 farmers from the RI region, as well as other stakeholders, will receive information through public meetings and mailings about the project and the results from previous testing, input about farmer’s needs will be requested. This milestone has been partially met. Since we had a delay in the project due to problems with hatchery production (see a more detailed explanation under milestone 3), we knew we would have to delay the start of the project until May 2008, so we delayed doing an intensive recruitment campaign for participants until the strains to be tested were produced in 2008. However, we have used different venues to let farmers and other interest groups know of our project. We have presented results from the previous testing of 3 strains and described the plans for the SARE project at the following meetings: the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition (Mystic, CT, December 2006), Aquaculture 2007 (San Antonio, TX, March 2007), as well as a class at Roger Williams University (Shellfish Aquaculture, Spring 2007, 10 students) for people that are planning to go into the shellfish aquaculture business in Rhode Island. We estimate that we have reached an audience composed of farmers (regionally and nationally, an estimate of 15 to 30 farmers), extension agents (including those for Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Maine), and scientists. We have also met with farmers in the Ocean State Aquaculture Association (25 farmers, OSAA), explained the project to them, presented data from the previous research, and asked for input on their needs. Farmers had a very favorable reception and were excited about the project. Many of them (16 so far) indicated interest in participating in the project. They also provided input on which characteristics they would like to see in the new strain (resistance to Juvenile Oyster Disease and hypoxia, good growth). We plan to contact farmers in 2008 during the Milford Aquaculture Seminar (a meeting attended by industry and scientists) on February 25 – 27, 2008, as well as meetings of the OSAA, press releases, and mailings.
Milestone 2. 50 farmers will provide input on their needs. Strains to be used in the research will be chosen based on previous research and farmer input. This milestone has been partially met. As mentioned above, we received input from farmers in the Ocean State Aquaculture Association (25 farmers) regarding choice of strains for the project. It was decided that the Rhodoyster would consist of a hybrid between local oysters from Green Hill Pond (RI) and the disease-resistant strain NEHY.
Milestone 3. The Rhodoyster will be developed. Oyster seed from each strain to be tested will be produced, 20 farmers from the RI area will sign up to the research program and receive seed oysters from 3 selected strains (May – July 2007) This target was not met. Oyster larvae from the 3 target strains (the local Green Hill Pond, the disease-resistant NEHY, and a hybrid between the two) were produced in May 2007. However, larvae succumbed to bacterial infection by day 10 after fertilization, and the whole production was lost. This was a common problem to many hatcheries in New England during the 2007 growing season, most farmers were not able to obtain seed from hatcheries until late in the season. In order to prevent losses due to Juvenile Oyster Disease (which affects juvenile oysters deployed after July, when water temperatures reach more than 25 degrees centigrade, we decided to postpone production to the 2008 season (New target dates: May – July 2008). For the 2008 season, we have arranged for production at two different hatcheries, to ensure that we will produce enough oysters to allow for completion of the project.
Milestone 4. 15 farmers will provide data on year 1 performance. Data will be analyzed and results presented to participant farmers and other beneficiaries (new target date: November – December 2008)
Milestone 5. Seed will be produced and 15 farmers will receive this batch of oyster seed and on-site training and assistance (new target date: May – July 2009).
Milestone 6. 12 farmers will provide data on year 2 performance. Data will be analyzed and results presented to participant farmers and other beneficiaries (new target date: Nov – Dec 09).
Milestone 7. 11 farmers will provide data on year 3 performance. Data will be analyzed and results presented to participant farmers and other beneficiaries. Publications will be prepared (new target date: Dec 09 – Dec 10).
In order to achieve our goals, we are planning to request a one year no-cost extension for the 4th year.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- Farmers (about 30) were contacted through difference venues (milestone 1) and several (16) provided input and expressed interest in participating in the project.
Strains to be used in the project were chosen based on input from farmers (milestone 2).
Oysters were produced, but production was lost due to disease (milestone 3). The project was delayed for a year.
University of Rhode Island
Kingston, RI 02881
Office Phone: 4018742917
Ocean State Aquaculture Association
PO Box 188
Peacedale, RI 02883
Office Phone: 4019324946
Northeast Region Aquaculture Programs
55 Great Republic Drive
Gloucester, MA 01930-2276
Office Phone: 9782819210
Associate Professor, RI Aquaculture Extension
Roger Williams University
One Old Ferry Road
Bristol, RI 02809
Office Phone: 4012543047