1. By 2017, at least 100 individuals will have measurably increased their knowledge about off-bottom techniques and culture methods used raise oysters within the US South, based on post-workshop surveys.
2. By 2017, at least 100 individuals will have measurably increased their knowledge about assuring product safety within the US South, based on post-workshop surveys.
3. By 2017, at least 100 individuals will have measurably increased their knowledge about increasing the resilience of oyster farms through disaster preparation within the US South, based on post-workshop surveys.
4. By 2017, at least 250 consumers will have measurably increased their knowledge about farm-raised oysters produced within the US South.
5. By 2017, at least 25,000 consumers will be aware of the availability of off-bottom farmed oysters from the southern US.
We propose a two-day regional meeting in winter 2016-2017 in Mobile, AL to bring together current and potential oyster farmers, natural resource managers, Extension agents, educators, researchers, and restaurant industry members to share information, identify regional challenges and opportunities, and build relationships. Premised on the successful regional models of the Northeastern Aquaculture Conference & Exposition and the Pacific Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting, this meeting will draw stakeholders from across the US South, building off the membership of OysterSouth (http://theoystersouth.com/).
The first day will be focused on oyster farming concerns, with a traditional conference format of short, informative talks. Expected attendees (100-200 individuals) are current and potential oyster farmers, gear suppliers, researchers and Extension agents. The day will also include a tradeshow for vendors. The day will end with a reception, for the day’s attendees, as well as chefs and wholesalers arriving for the second day’s activities. The reception will provide an opportunity to build relationships across the region.
The second day of the workshop will be divided into two segments. The morning session will be dedicated to working groups addressing issues related to permitting, product distribution, and marketing. Working groups will feature chefs and other members of the food industry, to ensure that producers are working with their end buyers. In the afternoon, the meeting will host a ticketed oyster tasting event, open to the public (up to 300 attendees), where oyster farmers and chefs will partner to promote the quality and variety of oysters produced throughout the region. Food writers and other media members will be invited to this event to build on this effort and to increase awareness more broadly.
This project primarily supports the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program 2014-2017 Strategic Plan’s Focus Area of Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture goal of a safe, secure and sustainable supply of seafood, with a secondary effort to inform consumers. Recently, a handful of commercial off-bottom oyster farms have been established in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina, with significant interest in Mississippi and Georgia. Though newly established and relatively small-scale, these oyster farms have established the potential for off-bottom oyster farming in the region. These businesses have also found that there is a ready market in the region for locally produced, premium oysters; oysters from Murder Point Oyster Company (Bayou la Batre, AL) and Lady’s Island Oyster Farm (Lady’s Island, SC) have garnered accolades from buyers and chefs throughout the region and nation, and prompted significant interest in further developing this industry both in the Gulf and along the southern Atlantic coast.
Despite these opportunities, this new industry faces significant challenges in regards to increasing production efficiency, improving product quality and consistency, assuring product safety, disaster preparation, permitting and marketing. Current and potential oyster farmers, wholesalers, gear suppliers and restaurant industry members would significantly benefit from an opportunity to exchange information, build relationships, and promote this new industry. As proposed, this project: 1) has a high probability of significantly advancing sustainable domestic marine aquaculture development in the short and medium terms by transferring a proven technology to a region ready to begin or advance premium oyster production; 2) is a regional project, spanning seven states; 3) will directly increase the number of aquaculture producers adopting and modifying their practices; 4) supports the culture of a native coastal marine species, the Eastern oyster; and 5) supports aquaculture in state waters within the US coastal zone.
The project is premised on partnerships with industry members in each state and leverages industry interest, existing Extension expertise, and prior investments by Sea Grant programs.