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Fellowship allows oyster farmers to travel, learn from peers

By: Rusty Grice / Published: Jul 03,  2018

Last January, Dr. Bill Walton announced a fellowship program funded by the National Sea Grant Office and Oyster South that helps Southern shellfish students and farmers receive travel assistance to visit existing aquaculture operations, hatcheries, workshops or trade shows to learn best practices from their peers.

The goal is to assist farmers from the South (where shellfish aquaculture is relatively new in many areas) have the best chance for commercial success by meeting face to face with establish operators and hatchery managers to learn from them.

By creating these opportunities in the Southern United States, the fellowship is supporting coastal aquaculture of oysters and other shellfish species. It also addresses major constraints on increased oyster production by delivering presentations about commerce, permitting and policies, current and emerging species, productions systems, and seafood safety and quality.

The fellowship program uses a team approach built on a regional partnership among Extension and Sea Grant specialists from the North Carolina to Texas coasts. And, the program is bringing changes in knowledge (e.g., new gear, new species, new techniques, new business tools and resources, etc.) that should help oyster farmers increase profit and production.

Since the launch of the program, there have been eight awards for travel to visit aquaculture operations in Cedar Key, Florida, the Auburn University Shellfish Lab in Dauphin Island, Alabama, and other operations in Boston, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, Canada, and as far away as Thailand!

Below are some excerpts from the travel logs of our first three awardees.

Dennis David of Indian River Oyster Company visits Southern Cross Sea Farms in Cedar Key, Florida.
Dennis David of Indian River Oyster Company visits Southern Cross Sea Farms in Cedar Key, Florida.

Dennis David of Indian River Oyster Company (New Smyrna Beach, Florida) traveled to Cedar Key, Florida.

We spent time in Leslie Sturmer’s (of The University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences) lab discussing husbandry practices and observing her and staff conducting research measurements on triploid meat yield and learning about other research her lab is participating in.

“We expressed an interest that we are anxious to partner in any future research opportunities on our farm. Key husbandry advice was that stocking density was a key factor in growth and survival.  We needed to determine the ‘right’ stocking density for our location, and perhaps season as well.”  - Dennis David

Tom Cannon of Soundside Oyster Farm learns about oyster aquaculture in Thailand.
Tom Cannon of Soundside Oyster Farm learns about oyster aquaculture in Thailand.

Tom Cannon of Soundside Oyster Farm (North Carolina) visited oyster farms in Thailand.

"We can develop an international market for our product. There is a lot of local demand for our product, but we should also be working towards developing an international distribution network. If we raise as many oysters as we all want to, we are going to need to have markets ready to consume them."  - Tom Cannon

This photo of a display at the Boston Seafood Expo was taken by Hugh McClure.
This photo of a display at the Boston Seafood Expo was taken by Hugh McClure.

From Hugh McClure of Point aux Pins (Alabama) traveled to the Boston Seafood Expo.

"I have to say when I first entered the convention center where the expo was being held, I was a little overwhelmed by the amount of vendors present. I was not sure what to expect before going to the expo. I was hoping to gain some knowledge from oyster farmers throughout the U.S. and possibly from other countries. I was disappointed there were not any Gulf oysters at the expo, which I hope to change the following year. I plan on having a booth and bringing oysters from my farms next year. It would be great if several farms from Alabama could be present and let everyone taste our gems." - Hugh McClure

To learn more about how to apply for this travel assistance, please see the criteria and directions. Another round of funds will be available to applicants this fall, and the first round of awards will be made from applications received by Sept. 15.

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