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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

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Grand Isle Oyster Hatchery Marks 20 Years as Research Facility

Grand Isle Oyster Hatchery Marks 20 Years as Research Facility

Louisiana Sea Grant (LSG) marks 20 years of operating its oyster hatchery on Grand Isle in 2013. During those two decades, the facility has been destroyed by hurricanes twice, threatened by an oil spill, relocated once, and now awaits another relocation into a state-of-the-art building.

“Basically my goal over the last seven years has been, ‘Just keep the research focus going’,” said John Supan, LSG’s oyster specialist and hatchery director. “There were three recent summers where I did all my spawning at Auburn Shellfish Laboratory on Dauphin Island because our hatchery was a wreck from hurricanes. Then the 2010 season was ruined by the BP oil spill. But now we’re on a roll,” said Supan.

The hatchery was established in 1990 as a commercial operation when the natural production of oyster seed was down because of drought and low Mississippi River discharge. Gulf Shellfish Farms of Louisiana ran the facility at that time, and Supan, who was a young LSG Marine Extension agent, was loaned to them to manage the hatchery and help train oystermen in remote setting techniques.

By 1993, naturally occurring seed production had rebounded, thanks in part to a record rainfall, and the need for a commercial hatchery passed. That could have been the end of it, but when the commercial venture folded, Louisiana Sea Grant acquired the hatchery and retooled it into a research facility with Supan at the helm.

Most of Supan’s research has focused on developing a broodstock for producing triploid oysters – which have higher summertime meat yields. But he is also examining alternative oyster growing systems, including two off-bottom cultivation techniques.

“The systems we’re looking at are commercially used in other parts of the world,” said Supan. “People are making money with them, and they’re recovering more of the oysters they put in the water. One of my former grad students conducted an industry survey and found on average only 35 percent of the oysters planted using traditional methods make it to harvest. With off-bottom culture, every oyster you put into the water you get back.”

The alternative oyster culture research is conducted at the hatchery’s demonstration farm, located adjacent to a new operations center which opened in 2012 to replace a building lost during Hurricane Katrina. The operations center provides a farm service area downstairs, and upstairs living and office space for Supan and his graduate students.

Hatchery functions moved to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries’ (LDWF) Grand Isle Fisheries Laboratory in 2009 after being destroyed a second time. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the hatchery. Supan rebuilt, but the hatchery was razed again in 2008 by Hurricane Gustav.

Construction on a new $3 million permanent facility is scheduled to begin later this year, with hopes of moving-in during 2013-14.

The new hatchery is being funded with money from a Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) grant for projects identified as helping speed recovery following the 2010 BP oil spill. The new facility will help Supan’s team remain at the cutting edge with state-of-the-art equipment for algal production, water filtration and even a seawater heater allowing the hatchery to extend its larval production beyond the current May-to-September season.

The new hatchery also will be able to continue running essential equipment during tropical storms, with reduced hurricane preparation and recovery times.

“Alternative oyster culture and triploid production both hold promise, but I don’t see them as replacing traditional methods used by the Louisiana oyster industry,” said Supan. “Nonetheless, I do see them as augmenting natural oyster production and creating new markets for growers and harvesters.”