A review of oyster culture and the oyster industry in North America
Matthiessen, George C.
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Among the various marine species presently considered appropriate for intensive and controlled culture, the oyster is perhaps most prominent. Ryther and Bardach (1968) have described certain biological criteria that should be satisfied in order for a species to be adaptable to culture: responsiveness to efforts to effect reproduction under captive conditions; tolerance of eggs and larvae to the culture environment; nutritional requirements that may be easily satisfied in this environment; and a relatively rapid rate of growth from egg to maturity. To a large extent the oyster satisfies these criteria, and it possesses other favorable qualities as well. The oyster is sedentary rather than fugitive; its lack of mobility subsequent to the planktonic larval period obviously eliminates certain problems in management associated with fugitive species. Since it is herbivorous, the oyster's nutritional requirements are more readily satisfied, and at greater efficiency, than are those of a carnivore. The oyster is highly fecund, a single female being capable of producing many millions of eggs at a single spawning. Finally, and of considerable importance with respect to economic considerations of aquaculture, oyster culture protentially is highly profitable and is a traditional industry in the majority of coastal states. Therefore, certain marketing and institutional constraints that might apply to the commercial culture of other species are, in the case of the oyster, avoided. The oyster's popularity for cultural purposes is further enhanced by the fact that oyster production during this century has undergone a severe decline, to the extent that the survival of the industry has been seriously questioned (Wallace, 1960). As a result of regional scarcity, e.g., the New England States, the oyster has become a luxury, rather than staple, food item in some areas, with a corresponding high market value. The purpose of this report is to review the current status of oyster culture and the oyster industry in various geographical areas of North America. Although the initial purpose of this study was to describe recent techniques employed in culture, it quickly became apparent that the various approaches to, and methods of, culture reflected the socio-economic conditions of the industry in the area concerned. For this reason, this report will attempt to describe the various reasons as to why certain methods of culture have, or have not, been adopted, which, in addition to advances in technology, would include a broad· spectrum of nontechnical factors and constraints. The subject of aquaculture is becoming of increasing interest, in this country and elsewhere. Despite its current glamour, however, the development of this industry will be impeded, and in certain areas prevented, by factors not necessarily technical in nature. Such factors will be discussed in this report. It is hoped that certain of the information contained here may therefore be of interest to those not necessarily engaged in oyster culture or in the oyster industry but rather in any form of coastal water use, since certain of the problems described arc not restricted to the former group alone. The information contained in this report was obtained by means of personal interview with members of the industry and with scientists involved in oyster research, and by a review of pertinent literature. In view of the large number of oyster culture and research operations and investigations being undertaken in North America, only representative groups and agencies could be contacted during the period allocated for this study. The interest and cooperation of those who provided this information are acknowledged in an appendix to this report.
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