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mobile oyster hatchery

United States Department of Agriculture Grant



1. Evaluate the relative success of Mobile Oyster Hatchery (MOH) operation in three locations, two of which are on distant shores.

 2. Evaluate production costs and capacity of the modular hatchery.

limited hatcheries pose insecurities in shellfish aquaculture

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 Shellfish hatcheries represent the tip of the biomass pyramid for aquaculture, where a large and diverse market for shellfish production is serviced by comparatively few hatcheries. In the US, twenty or so hatchery companies service thousands of shellfish grow out 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 strain on seed production for much of 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. Still, 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, drastic salinity change, and more. Some failures go un-explained. The high capital costs of hatcheries restrict the entrance of new companies into the seed production business and limits diversity and redundancy in the market.

the mobile oyster hatchery concept - DISRUPTING THE NORMS OF SHELLFISH AQUACULTURE 

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. 

Our ultimate goal for this concept was to disrupt the norms of the shellfish hatchery industry by commercializing spatially diverse and agile hatchery capacity. 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.




1. Evaluate the relative success of Mobile Oyster Hatchery (MOH) operation in three locations, two of which are on distant shores.

 2. Evaluate production costs and capacity of the modular hatchery.


OSH has been experimenting with mobile hatchery technology since 2015. Our initial hatchery was entirely an OSH investment. Essentially, elements of our working production hatchery were miniaturized to fit into a 53’ reefer trailer. A few years later, OSH received a Phase I Small Business Innovative Research award from U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to test the militarization of the setting process, so that a mobile hatchery could produce 1mm seed. Finally, this led to a Phase II award to test the idea on a much wider scale. For the USDA project, OSH constructed three replicate units of a mobile hatchery. 


Each of the three “experimental” MOH units was co-located with an existing hatchery, located at the  University of Georgia Shellfish Research Laboratory, The Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory, and at OSH itself. (Read more about FSUCML’s test location here). They will operate at these locations through the 2023 spawning season, after which the grant expires.


The principal of co-locating the MOH with an existing hatchery was to have a “control” for conditions at the site. That is, if hatchery production in the MOH failed, was it the site or the MOH itself. By having ongoing hatchery production in an established facility, we can gauge success of the MOH.


This experimental approach to oyster aquaculture utilizes innovative techniques that make hatchery production more economically feasible, geographically-friendly — as they can be placed where environmental conditions are not optimal for oyster production — and mobile, so the unit can be moved away from extreme weather events such as tropical storms or hurricanes.



The ultimate goal Phase II is the ground truthing of the newest iteration of the mobile oyster hatchery (MOH) that we think can 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 of shellfish seed production.

The MOH that Oyster Seed Holdings (OSH) has developed and will be testing represents a combined set of technologies that have been innovated and improved over nearly a decade. Collectively, these technologies have resulted in miniaturized production systems that fit in a 53’ trailer to effect efficient moderate scale hatchery production in a small footprint. This modularity minimizes facility and operational costs. OSH would like to be the leader in this new commercial opportunity by promoting MOH technology. The exact nature and structure of this arrangement is to be determined and the reason we want to execute Phase II – to determine the economic exigencies of running an independent remote hatchery for profit.


More generally, this technology could apply globally as a deployable, turn-key shellfish hatchery.  Currently this type of facility does not exist. A mobile hatchery constructed and stocked with all the parts, equipment, and consumables for an entire season, could be towed to any state in the U.S. or just as easily fitted out in a shipping container and sent across an ocean. Moreover, the miniaturized technology inside the MOH does not have to apply to any particular shellfish species, or for that matter to commercial production mode alone. For example, the MOH could be used for training purposes only.


The mobile concept also allows for an increase in the potential suitable locations for operation.  A location that has seasonal restrictions (either environmental, or otherwise) or is particularly exposed or prone to storms and/or flooding would typically be avoided for the installation of a large-scale permanent hatchery.  A MOH however could be itinerant.  


USDA Grant abstract

Oyster Seed Holdings, Inc has designed and successfully commissioned a one-of-a-kind

mobile hatchery that has now successfully integrated a novel high-density larval setting system “True Cultchless Setting” or TCS developed in Phase I, to realize the concept of a fully functional, moderately scaled, mobile oyster hatchery (MOH). The goal of this Phase II proposal is to test the ability of this concept to disrupt the norms of shellfish hatchery production by commercializing agile hatchery capacity. 


Supporting this goal are two primary objectives: (1) evaluate the relative success of MOH operation in three locations, two of which are on distant shores and (2) evaluate production costs and capacity of the modular hatchery.  Sites for operation have been carefully chosen to be co-located with existing shellfish hatcheries to ground the relative performance among facilities, providing repeated measures on site, time of season, and over multiple seasons.  Evaluation includes a wide range of general hatchery performance metrics, as well as labor and production costs to assess the commercial viability of the MOH.  


The impact of an operational, “turn-key”, moderate scale mobile oyster hatchery capable of

autonomous single seed production is revolutionary and serves as the genesis for a novel

concept: numerous moderately scaled, relatively inexpensive, modular shellfish

hatcheries operating simultaneously to realize redundant, diverse, reliable, and -- cumulatively -- large scale production of shellfish seed.


This work will contribute to program goal 7: Provide all Americans access to a secure food supply by increasing and stabilizing shellfish seed supply.

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