As the first day of summer approaches, farmers arrive at Louisiana State University’s Sea Grant oyster farm in Grand Isle to pick up their seed. The farmers express gratitude that Dr. John Supan has, with the help of his team, grown their oyster seeds a bit bigger than required.
“I don’t drink beer,” Supan announces to the farmers. “So you can pay me back with a bottle of wine. Or two.”
Dr. Supan benevolently lords over a slice of paradise on Caminada Bay, including a massive waterfront laboratory for breeding genetically perfect oysters, and a private floating farm in which to grow them, consisting of rows and rows of what look like miniature shark cages. Only Supan has official clearance to trout fish between the cages, which he does, alone, at 5:30 every single morning. “I only throw top water lures,” he tells me when I express jealousy. “You don’t catch as much but when you do they’re the biggest and best.”
The pinky-nail-sized larval oysters look like a pile of mushy sand until Supan’s crew rinse and separate them from each other. The tiny oysters yearn to attach to anything, but each of these will live its entire life autonomous and untethered from rocks and fellow oysters.
In the process of packing the seeds into small sacks of 50,000, three of the tiny larvae fall to the ground. This goes unnoticed by no one. The farmers purchase the two-millimeter larvae through the Louisiana Oyster Dealers and Growers Association for $300 per million, or $11 per thousand. Traditional oyster larvae face all manner of challenges, and most never make it to adulthood, but the cage farmers expect almost all of these seeds to grow.
LSU’s hatchery is designed to produce around a billion larvae each year. Seed is what Supan and company focus on, because seed is what’s been desperately needed. Jules Melancon, a third generation oyster fisherman, was the first Louisiana farmer to adopt this cage technology six years ago. “We still get a few hundred acres of wild oysters, but only about every three years, “says 58-year-old Melancon, who joined the family business at age 11. “So, we have to have a seed crop too every year to have the big money. And usually you’d lose a lot to predators, so you need a lot of seed. This way, LSU grows the seed, and the cages protect from predators.” CLICK HERE to read the rest of the piece at Louisiana Cultural Vistas…
Or watch this demo about how to grow oysters in cages: