This project collaborated with Georgia shellfish growers and pickers and Georgia restaurants to identify opportunities for a sustainable single oyster aquaculture industry in Georgia. The development of oyster aquaculture has been hindered due to restrictions on the import of out-of-state oyster spat which is not legally allowed in Georgia waters. But the 2015 development of an in-state hatchery by University of Georgia Marine Extension and Georgia Sea Grant provides the opportunity to foster sustainable growth methods suitable to Georgia’s unique growing conditions, and to provide jobs in coastal counties. Our goal is to encourage sustainable methods of growing single oysters, to increase farmed oyster production, and to support a wider market for sustainable local oysters in Georgia restaurants. The overall project objectives were to:
- 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
- Identify alternate shipping methods that 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
Georgia’s oyster industry is built on wild harvest strategies – where clustered oysters that grow in clumps are harvested by hand. In 2013, Georgia produced 23,998 pounds of oyster meat, while in 2014 the US harvested 34.1 million pounds of oyster meat (NMFS 2015). Right now, the oyster industry within Georgia cannot commercially compete with the present day single oyster market based on the wild harvesting methods that Georgia’s oyster farmers use. Instead, we hope to develop oyster aquaculture that can expand and increase the viability of the Georgia oyster market. At the same time, oyster farms are ecologically sustainable and provide refuge for finfish (Tallman and Forrester 2007), and benefit water quality through removal of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus (Higgens et al. 2011) when oysters are harvested.
This project uses cages to hold oysters in the intertidal and subtidal zones to find the best single oyster growth method. We are using cylinder oyster cages that can hold 250 mature oysters in the intertidal and subtidal zones, from the time oyster spat is “planted” until the oysters are harvested. These cylinder cages are easily deployed and hauled in from a boat, and do not require use of bags.
In Georgia, most shellfish farms are one-person or small family-run businesses and they do not have the contacts, resources, and time necessary to move oysters to more lucrative markets outside their immediate locale. Distribution of oysters is challenging, as logistics companies typically deal in larger volumes of product than small growers are able to produce, and oyster farmers are required to have a dealer’s license to sell and ship products to end-users. Selling directly to end users would enable farmers to bypass traditional wholesalers and obtain a higher price for their oysters, thus maximizing profit.
We evaluated the effectiveness and safety of delivery methods such as Federal Express and the United Parcel Service to transport oysters directly to restaurants. This project also seeks to expand the market in which Georgia oyster farmers can sell their oysters. Potential new markets for aquaculture single oysters are restaurants and organizations in the major urban centers of the state. Previous research among individually-managed mid- to high-end restaurants indicated a high level of enthusiasm among urban Georgia chefs, who are eager to obtain fresh Georgia oysters (Tookes, Barlett,Yandle 2018). Similarly, Atlanta area Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) aggregators and consumers have expressed interest in accessing Georgia oysters through their local foods deliveries. There is already a high demand for high-quality single oysters on the half-shell. Restaurants have been surveyed and interviewed about their interest in purchasing locally grown Georgia oysters, supply and delivery requirements, and their interest in receiving oysters through novel delivery methods.
Our hope is that oyster aquaculture in Georgia can emerge to become both profitable and sustainable, as oyster farms can benefit water quality and provide refuge for other sea life.
By coordinating research on the entire system of oyster grow-out methods, marketing, distribution, and economic research, this project has the potential to make oyster aquaculture a sustainable component of Georgia’s economy. This will increase Georgia consumers’ access to local, environmentally-friendly seafood.
Tookes, J. S., Bartlett, P., & Yandle, T. (2018). The Case for Local and Sustainable Seafood: A Georgia Example. Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment, 40(1), 55-64.
This project is led by University of Georgia in collaboration with Emory University and Georgia Southern University.
- Thomas Bliss (PI, Public Service Associate & Director of Shellfish Research Lab, University of Georgia)
- Tracy Yandle (Co-PI, Associate Professor, Emory University)
- Jennifer Sweeney Tookes (Co-PI, Assistant Professor, Georgia southern University)
- Mark Risse (Co-PI, Professor, University of Georgia)
- Bryan Fleuch (Associate Director and Public Service Assistant, University of Georgia)
Funding provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SSARE) Program, Grant #20163864025382.
FAO 2014. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture: Opportunities and Challenges. Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations. Rome. 243p http://www.fao.org/3/a-i3720e.pdf
GCRDC. 2006. Georgia Coast 2030: Population Projections for the 10-county Coastal Region. Coastal Georgia Regional Development Center. September 2006. 103 pp.
Moroney, D.A. and R.L. Walker. 1999. The effects of tidal and bottom placement on the growth, survival and fouling of the eastern oyster Crassostrea virginica. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society. 30 (4): 433-442.
Muth, M.K., S. Karns, D. Anderson, and B. Murray. 2000. Effects of Post-Harvest Treatment Requirements on the Markets for Oysters. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 31/2: 171-186.
Walton, W.C., F.S. Rikard, G.I. Chaplin, J.E. Davis, C.R. Arias and J.E. Supan. 2013. Effects of ploidy and gear on the performance of cultured oysters. Crassostrea virginica: Survival, growth, shape, condition index and Vibrio abundances. Aquaculture 414-415: 260-266.
Yandle, T., and J Tookes. 2016. Can the Local Food Movement Be an Opportunity for Georgia Seafood Producers to Participate in the Inland Seafood Market? Georgia Sea Grant Final Report. 135 pp.