Acadiana Business

Biologist touts new oyster farming method to aid struggling industry

by Heather Miller

Designer' oysters are larger, more robust and command top prices when served on the half-shell. An LSU biologist is spearheading a movement to make Louisiana's Gulf oysters bottom feeders no more.

In a recent article found on The (Thibodeaux) Daily Comet's website, Biologist John Supan says an oyster farming method gaining popularity across the country produces "bigger, fatter, heartier and faster growing" oysters by suspending the oyster farms on formations that hang higher in the water as opposed to the bottom-feeding oyster method currently used in the Gulf.

The state supplies 65 percent of the country's oysters, employs 3,500 people in Louisiana and contributes $300 million to the state's economy, according to The Daily Comet. But Louisiana's oyster abundance has been drained as a result of the BP oil spill and the efforts to divert oil from the state's fragile wetlands, and industry experts say Louisiana will only be producing a fraction of the oysters it once did for at least a year or two.

Supan says the "designer" oysters command top prices when served on the half-shell. For the new method to work here, however, the state would have to allow for areas in the Gulf that would be protected from navigation:
Supan is proposing creating "marine enterprise zones" that could be overseen by local port commissions for farming, areas where multiple farmers could be permitted to set up off-bottom oyster operations. Once the zones are developed and a type of permitting process is established, oystermen could begin farming and have oysters ready for market in a little over a year, compared with two to three years in typical bottom oyster-harvesting operations

Louisiana and the rest of the Gulf Coast have been slow to develop oyster-farming techniques simply because of abundance. But disasters have repeatedly wiped out the state's oyster crop, and saltwater intrusion and planned river diversions aimed at nourishing eroding marshes threaten the state's oyster grounds. Voisin said the time for change has come.
The scientists interviewed by The Daily Comet say they aren't trying to completely change the way oysters are grown in the Gulf, but are trying to promote a new option to leave a bigger mark in the overall oyster market.

Read more on the designer' oyster concept here.