Source: OYSTER SEED HOLDINGS, INC. submitted to
Sponsoring Institution
National Institute of Food and Agriculture
Project Status
Funding Source
Reporting Frequency
Accession No.
Grant No.
Project No.
Proposal No.
Multistate No.
Program Code
Project Start Date
Sep 1, 2021
Project End Date
Aug 31, 2024
Grant Year
Project Director
Congrove, M. S.
Recipient Organization
Performing Department
Non Technical Summary
Shellfish hatcheries represent the tip of the pyramid for aquaculture, where a large and diverse market for shellfish production is serviced by a comparative few hatcheries. This is true across the U.S. where twenty or so hatchery companies service thousands of shellfish companies. This scenario of large-scale hatchery production in relatively few places is precarious because failure of just one of these facilities can cause a significant deficit in seed production in the industry.The reason the industry has developed in this fashion is that, at least in part, shellfish hatcheries can be expensive to set up, requiring significant capital for procurement of suitable waterfront property, facility construction, facility equipment, and specialized staffing. After this significant investment, there is no guarantee of consistent production for stable return on investment due to numerous causes of culture failure including, but not limited to, harmful algal blooms, polluted upland runoff, pathogenic bacterial species, acidified water, and more. Furthermore, often these failures go un-explained making preventing them in the future or adjusting filtration difficult. This paradigm restricts the entrance of new companies into the seed production business and limits diversity and redundancy in the market.This proposal offers an alternative to the current status quo in U.S. shellfish hatchery production by the development of a highly efficient mobile oyster hatchery (MOH) capable of commercially relevant seed production. By creating a relatively inexpensive and simple to operate mobile shellfish hatchery, hatchery production could become more decentralized, effectively reducing product shortages through redundancy while allowing more participation in the seed market, promoting diversification.The ultimate goal of the concept we are developing with this project is to disrupt the norms of shellfish hatchery production by commercializing spatially diverse and agile hatchery capacity. Our precept is that hatchery technology has advanced, and will advance, sufficiently that we can begin to think out of the (stationary) box on shellfish seed production. We believe this paradigm shift has the ability to stabilize the seed market ensuring success of the shellfish aquaculture industry and therefore durable consumer access to the most sustainable animal protein source on the planet - farm raised shellfish.
Animal Health Component
Research Effort Categories

Knowledge Area (KA)Subject of Investigation (SOI)Field of Science (FOS)Percent
Knowledge Area
307 - Animal Management Systems;

Subject Of Investigation
3723 - Oysters;

Field Of Science
1060 - Biology (whole systems);
Goals / Objectives
The ultimate goal of the concept we are developing with this mobile hatchery (MOH) project is to disrupt the norms of shellfish hatchery production by commercializing spatially diverse and agile hatchery capacity. Our precept is that hatchery technology has advanced, and will advance, sufficiently that we can begin to think out of the (stationary) box on shellfish seed production.ObjectivesEvaluate the relative success of modular hatchery operation in three locations, two of which are testing distant shores.To date the prototype hatchery has had limited operation at significant distances from the OSH hatchery. It is important to assess the capability of full remote, independent operation of the MOH. Standard hatchery performance metrics, such as, survival of larval cultures, algae culture densities, seed setting rates, and seed survival throughout the season will all be used to evaluate performance. Identical data capture spreadsheets will be developed and utilized at each of the three locations so the same data are collected at each site and can be used for relative comparison between sites. Each MOH site is co-located with an existing hatchery which will also use the same data capture spreadsheets so these existing sites may be used to assess the relative performance of the MOH to a "traditional" and existing hatchery. Evaluate production costs and capacity of MOH.Critical to the economic feasibility of the modular hatchery concept is knowing its real-world production capacity and operational costs. Design capacity and actual capacity can differ greatly in hatcheries and confidence in production capacity will allow for estimation of gross revenue, which in conjunction with recorded operational costs, will be used for an economic feasibility analysis and creation of a business plan for MOH technology. Metrics collected will include overall larvae and seed production from the MOH by the week, month, and season as well as operational metrics, such as, utilities, supplies, and labor. These data will allow for cost-volume-profit and return on investment analysis.
Project Methods
Overall strategy for deploymentThree sites, one for each MOH, have been selected to evaluate operational success. Although the principal use of the MOH technology is meant to be a stand-alone, fully integrated and remotely located unit, for the sake of our Phase II project, we have deliberately targeted sites that have an incumbent hatchery. This decision was made in order to separate the performance of the trailer from the vagaries of environmental variability at a site. In a sense, the incumbent hatchery is an ersatz control that will allow comparisons that will help guide operations in the MOH. The three sites will be the home site of Oyster Seed Holdings, in Virginia, the University of Georgia Shellfish Research Laboratory in Georgia, and the University of Florida Coastal and Marine Laboratory in Florida.Fabrication of Mobile Hatchery 3.0Three MOH facilities are needed for this project. One of these, the MOH prototype (MOH1), will be refurbished to match exactly the systems and capacity of two new MOH facilities. Two 53' refrigerated trailers will be sourced to serve as the platform for MOH2 and MOH3. After a fabricator has made necessary modifications and HVAC systems are complete OSH staff will construct and install the algae, larvae, and seed culture systems.Training of MOH techniciansOne of the principal challenges of commercializing the MOH technology in the future will be obtaining and training competent operators. No matter how elegant these are designed, the operator is the conductor of a symphony of several associated hatchery skills. For this proposal, we are trying to assure that "operator" is not a variable, and that is part of the reason we have partnered up with academic sites (see below) that have existing hatcheries: access to qualified technicians will be convenient.For this project, a technician will be hired to operate the MOH facility at the Georgia and Florida sites. These technical people have already been identified. For the Virginia site adjacent to OSH, the operator will be our Innovative Technology Manager (ITM), a permanent position partially funded by grant funds to OSH. To standardize husbandry techniques and knowledge base, OSH will provide a week-long training session to be completed in early January at the OSH main hatchery in MOH1, where it will be deployed in conjunction with the OSH hatchery for the duration of the project. MOH2 and 3 will be located near OSH as well, but non-operational during the training.Operational details of MOH - the 'experiment'A season in the life of the MOH -The season of the MOH, like any shellfish hatchery, starts out ramping up algae culture. This takes about 3-4 weeks and will begin each season after the first of the year. The first animals to benefit from the algae production system are the brood stock. These adult oysters that will yield their gametes throughout the season are the foundation of a hatchery season. The MOH is capable of holding sufficient early season broodstock for 4-6 spawns. Once conditioned, a new spawn will be performed each week until all animals in the conditioning system have been utilized. When early season brood stock are expended, reliance shifts to brood stock obtained from the surrounding area that have naturally ripened on their own. These will be brought into the system and "help-back" for subsequent spawning through the remainder of the season. A spawning run in the life of the MOH - New larvae cultures will be started each week in the MOH with the first 6 days taking place in static culture tanks after which larvae will be transferred to flow through larvae tanks for the remainder of the larvae culture period. Tanks are drained and larvae inspected every other day and prepared a fresh diet of micro algae daily. Pediveligers are "harvested" from the larvae culture based on size and exhibition of settlement behavior that indicates readiness to metamorphose. These eyed larvae are then removed from culture will be transitioned to the TCS system (the novel setting system developed in phase 1). Once set and removed from TCS, the osyters, now termed seed, are then transferred to the bottle nursery system for continued growth until the seed are large enough to be moved to an outside, raw water nursery for further growth.A day in the life of the MOH -Shellfish hatcheries are made or broken by husbandry and attention to detail. The MOH is no different and will require competent, attentive staff to provide exceptional husbandry to realize the full potential. Below is offered some insight on what a typical day might look like for such staff. The first part of the day is dedicated to assessment. Health assessments of any larvae or seed currently in culture are performed to help inform how those animals will be treated that day. Equipment and systems are assessed for any issues or breakdowns that could affect operation. Once complete the work for the day can begin. Avoiding the transfers of pathogens and bacteria throughout the hatchery dictates the order of daily operations, proceeding from the most 'sterile' to the least 'sterile:' algae work, larvae work, seed work, brood stock work, filter changes, system maintenance. Data capture will take place on a tablet mostly in real time throughout the workday. PD Congrove will review data dailyBefore leaving for the day, all flow through systems are checked again to ensure appropriate seawater and feed flow rates.Levels of "replication"The real-world trials of the MOH system in remote sites comprise our "experiment." Our "reagents" are parts to build the units and supplies for hatchery operation. It is impossible to have "replicate" MOHs on site to look for within-site variance in performance, but there are several levels of replication and repeat trials that are built into the entirety of the project.First, we have three sites to gauge the geographical variance in performance among MOHs. Within site effects can be estimated because of the multiple spawning runs, which of course have the co-variance of environmental effects. To some degree, that co-variance can be traced because of the presence of the incumbent hatchery such that we may ascribe performance as a common feature or singular to one or the other of the hatcheries. Finally, we have a rough measure of temporal variance, not only within a year, but between the two years of the project.Metrics of successThe metrics of success for this hatchery project are exactly those used in commercial hatcheries everywhere. These metrics will be acquired by data capture and compiled at the end of each season.Algae culture- algae density by species- culture longevityLarvae culture- survival (egg to day 2, day 2 to day 6, day 6 to pediveliger)- culture duration (egg to complete harvest)- % harvested as pediveligersSetting success- set rate (pediveliger to first seed count)- setting duration (number of sets required to use all pediveligers)Man-hours-recorded dailyCosts- total man hours/ season- electricity estimates- propane use- consumables - exigent spendingEconomic AnalysisIn order to asses the economic feasibility of the MOH a simple economic analysis will be performed by plugging in data captured in the "metrics of success" above. Using these data as well as market prices for each site specific state, a cost-volume- profit analysis will be performed. The result of this analysis will determine the level of production required to be profitable given the associated operational costs of the MOH and market dynamics of that state. Of particular interest in the case of the MOH is how profitability changes with sales volume and with sales price (which can vary state to state). In addition to the above, a return on investment analysis will be performed to assess the impact of the capital investment required to construct a MOH.

Progress 09/01/21 to 08/31/22

Target Audience:The MOH concept specifically addressesa bottleneck in the farm-raised shellfish process. The audience that will benefit from this work is shellfish farmers (particularly, at least currently, oyster farmers), that want to increase and/ or stabilize their access to high quality seed. Of these farmers, those that will have the resources to access this type of technology will be primarily bigger companies, and cooperatives or organizations that pool resources, and therefore seed demand, that would be equal to the output of a MOH. This type of audience can be found at various levels to include local areas of high intensity production, regional areas with spatially diverse needs, or national or international audiences currently without any or adequate seed production infrastructure. Another audeience outside of the commerical shellfish production worl is those firms involved in the production of shellfishi for restoration purposes. It is possible that the MOH concept coudl help boldeter production when large restorataion products call for more shellfish production in an area than could be served by the current capacity of hatcherie sin that areas. In this case the mobility of the MOH would allow for capacity to be moved in an our, or form restoration location to restoration location as needed. Changes/Problems:The only major change we have had to make thus far in the project was to operate the first production season with only two of the MOH units in operation instead of the planned three. Construction of three of these units simultaneously within the amount of time available and with primary construction done exclusively in house proved to be more than we were able to accommodate. Construction of the unfinished unit will be finished in time for the 2023 season and all 3 MOH units will be in operation for this second production season. What opportunities for training and professional development has the project provided?The MOHs provide excellent opportunities for their hosts to train staff in commercial hatchery technology, particularly in live algae culture. Neither the Georgia or Florida hatcheries culture live algae regularly and the opportunity to operate these facilities has provided extensive capability to train staff on such systems. In fact UGA has inquired about setting up a similar algae production system for their own hatchery. The next season will provide further opportunity for more professional development. How have the results been disseminated to communities of interest?Results have not yet been disseminated to interested communities, but at teh culmination of the project we plan to offer up production and expense data to all interested parties and start "selling" the idea of the MOH in a more commerical manner, that is to say the MOH concept will be open for busines to interested parties. What do you plan to do during the next reporting period to accomplish the goals?The next reporting period will include the 2023 production season. We have had planning meetings with both FSU and UGA host operating teams and have a plan to start larvae production early in the season. We are hopeful that this will lead to more consistent larvae culture conditions. Additionally we are in the process of finishing the retrofit of the original MOH so that it will be available for operation at Oyster Seed Holdings. In all three locations we will have a 6-8 week spawning season in the spring starting around late February or early march. By end of May when it starts getting hot in the southern locations we will pause operations until a 4 week fall spawning season later in August or September.

What was accomplished under these goals? In the first year of this project we have accomplished construction and transport to remote operation locations, the two new MOH units. MOH2 was completed and transported to UGA's marine lab in Savannah, GA and MOH3 was completed and transported to FSU's coastal and marine lab in St Teresa Florida. While not specifically written in the objectives of this project, the first major goal was to construct the MOH units. OSH, at the time, was on its second iteration of the prototype MOH, and had a design for the the Beta version constructed here, but none had been constructed before this project. These two units were constructed and we can now report that the seawater filtration systems, seawater heating systems, algae culture systems are all working as designed. This was an unwritten, but very important objective that had to be accomplished first to allow for the research to take place. Operating costs were captured by tracking technician time in both MOHs operating during the 2022 season. Power consumption will be estimated and included in the financial analysis at the end of this project. Other costs like licensing and permitting will be considered, but these costs will vary with operation location of any one particular MOH. No seed were produced from either of the MOH units in this first season. Water quality issues in both locations plagues larvae culture with no cultured reaching maturity in Florida, and once a few cultures reaching maturity in Georgia. While this is a frustrating result for year one, we have made some filtration system changes for year 2 and will be starting much earlier in the season when water quality is often better and hope that this will allow for better larvae culture performance. Data and further information from both operating season will be presented in the interim report.