- Animals: shellfish
- Animal Production: aquaculture
- Education and Training: extension, participatory research, technical assistance
- Farm Business Management: budgets/cost and returns, farm-to-restaurant
The United States imports a large amount of fish and fishery products and it’s estimated that 91 percent of the seafood consumed comes from abroad, half of which is from aquaculture. In 2014, the U.S. harvested 34.1 million pounds and imported 32.6 million pounds of oyster meats. By comparison, in 2013, Georgia produced 23,998 pounds of oyster meats valued at $114,629 from approximately 52,000 acres of approved shellfish growing area. This low-volume harvest is a result of the fact that Georgia’s oyster industry is built upon wild harvest strategies of clustered oysters where harvest is conducted by hand is not cost effective. The oyster industry in Georgia is unequipped to commercially compete in the present day single oysters market based on existing wild harvest methodologies and must develop single oyster aquaculture methods to expand and be viable.
The goal of this multidisciplinary project is to work with Georgia oyster farmers to develop sustainable oyster grow-out methods of single oysters to increase production and identify distribution avenues and marketing tools for this emerging industry. The industry would greatly benefit from diversification into sustainable oyster aquaculture. To accomplish this we plan to examine the use of cages to hold oysters in intertidal and subtidal zones and evaluate growth, survival and cost of production to determine the most efficient and sustainable method to produce single oysters. Oyster farms are ecologically sustainable and provide refuge for finfish and benefit water quality through removal of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus when oysters are harvested.
A functional distribution system is important for farmers to be able to get oysters into the market place. The demand of high-quality single oysters for the half-shell market continues to grow along with the popularity of the “farm to table” movement. Most farms in Georgia are small and do not produce enough oysters to transport them using distribution companies and therefore need to find alternative avenues to get oysters to market. In Georgia, oyster farmers are required to have a dealer’s license which allows them to sell and ship product directly to end users. Along with evaluating other distribution schemes, we will determine the effectiveness of shipping oysters using existing infrastructure such as Federal Express and United Parcel Service to transport oysters to customers and determine if this is a cost-effective and safe method for distributing oysters.
In addition to production and distribution, marketing of oysters is very important. The “farm to table” movement continues to grow and connecting people with the product they are eating is important. Oysters take on the flavor of the water in which they are grown and this attribute can increase their marketability. Information about harvest location and farmer can also appeal to consumers who want to learn more about local foods and support communities that produce them. We will also explore novel ways for farmers in incorporate information that can be passed on to the consumer with oyster shipments.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Develop a sustainable grow-out method to raise hatchery-reared spat to legal-sized single oysters on shellfish leases in coastal Georgia;
- Identify lucrative in-state markets for Georgia oysters;
- Research alternate shipping methods that will meet producers’ and buyers’ needs for successful delivery of fresh and safe product;
- Evaluate the socioeconomic impact of the entire system, from grow out to shipping, to determine if this business model is sustainable for current and future oyster growers.