- Learn About Our Aquaculture Oyster Farm
Aquaculture oysters go through many steps before they can make it to the plate. Please take a look below at the various steps it takes to grow some of the best aquaculture oysters around. Growing oysters is a multi-step process which requires a lot of handling and labor. It all starts with two to five hundred adult oysters. These oysters are conditioned artificially to create conditions where the oysters will naturally spawn. This is accomplished by slowly raising the water temperature artificially to the temperature at which the oysters will spawn. This is at approximately 70 degrees F. Each oyster is capable of spawning many millions of oysters. Ward Oyster also partner with Mobjack Bay Seafood.
Once the oysters are spawned the next step is to take eggs and sperm and put them in tanks where they turn to oyster larvae. They stay in these tanks for about 21 days where they are fed specific algae which is grown with lights to be fed to the larvae. After 21 days the larvae are put in new setting tanks, where the larvae attach to very small pieces of oyster shell (approx. ½ millimeter). The setting process takes about 3 to 6 days, then these small oysters continue to grow while being fed the algae that we grow.
The next step is to take 1 millimeter oysters and place them outside in land based upweller tanks which allow ambient river water with natural algae to flow past the small oysters. The oysters feed off the natural algae and grow.
After about a month, when the oysters get to about ¼ inch we put them in a floating upweller, which is in the Ware River. In this system we are able to increase the water flow considerably at a low cost. This increases the growth of the oysters faster than we could do on land. At this point the oyster is about 2 to 2 ½ months old.
In the next step the oysters in the floating upweller are graded regularly. The oysters that are 5/8 inch and larger are removed and placed in ½" by ½" cages, which are placed on the river bottom in our special grow out location in the Ware River. Here they stay for up to 6 months. Then they are again graded. The oysters over 1 ½ inches in size are removed and placed in larger 1" by 1" cages. The smaller oysters are put back in the ½" by ½" cages for further growth.
The larger 1" by 1" cages is the final step before market. Once again after about 6 months the oysters are graded. At this time the market size oysters are removed, washed and graded for shipping to market. The undersized or smaller oysters are redeployed for further grow out.
As you can see there is much handling and grading of the oysters throughout their growth to market size. Not all oysters grow at the same rate. When mixed together the larger oysters actually out compete the smaller oysters for food and grow faster. Therefore, it is important to grade oysters to keep them uniform in each step. Also, some oysters can remain in a particular step for one to three grading processes.
Overall, it is possible for the fastest growing oysters to make it to market in one to one and a quarter years. Yet, some may take up to three years. So, as you can see, having an oyster farm is a lot of work! Our biggest expenses are labor and equipment. The end result is an eco-friendly delicacy for your palette.
Tours are available to schools, elected officials or other groups by appointment for educational purposes. Hope we have given you an idea of how the farm works at Ward Oyster Co!