VIRGINIA'S OYSTER INDUSTRY
Aquaculture is entrenched along Virginia's coasts—there are even islands built on oyster shells. The oyster industry is no stranger to hardships, though. In the 1970s and 80s, disease decimated natural oyster populations. Water pollution and urban runoff also took their toll. The industry has made a comeback, in part due to deliberate oyster aquaculture in hatcheries, which maintain selectively bred lines of oysters instead of gathering oyster larvae exclusively from the wild. Hatcheries carefully breed oysters, grow the larvae, and then sell the larvae to oyster farmers. The farmers then grow the oysters until they're large enough to be sold commercially and eaten. “It requires this application of science," Mike Congrove, a hatchery operator, says. "We have to build systems around the biological needs of the oysters at different life stages, but in a way that’s cost-effective.”
Carryover effects can stunt growth for adult oysters, so knowing how hatchery water conditions impact the oysters later in life will help hatchery operators like Congrove provide the best product. “From our perspective, we think it’s really important to have the knowledge of how our seeds are going to perform in the hands of our customers," Congrove says.
“As a hatchery, we’re just trying to get the best product into the customers’ hands that we can. Getting an idea of how that oyster’s going to perform in areas that might be different from where we’re producing it is helpful," Congrove says. "We’re operating at this middle salinity area here, but a lot of our customers are much lower and much higher than we are. So the carryover study—looking at the seed produced at various salinity regimes and grown-out in various salinity regimes—that’s important to us."