As reported in previous articles, aquaculture gear attracts all sorts of “opportunists” looking to set up shop. Similar to weeds in a garden robbing resources from intended crops, too many opportunists around aquaculture oysters restrict critical water flow that bring oxygen and food to the oyster; the most problematic are sea sponges, sea squirts and barnacles.
But of all these opportunists, the one we struggle with “fighting” the most are native oysters! This struggle is a love-hate relationship in which we love the fact our aquaculture operation creates so much surface area for wild oysters to "strike". The term “strike” comes from how young oysters or spat set and attach to surfaces to begin their adult life. But this can create a problem when the strike is heavy and one is trying to grow a half-shell product.
Over strike is a term that describes too much of a good thing. A crowded strike has the same impact as undesirable opportunists as described above. The examples here show 4 & 6 wild oysters growing on either side of one aquaculture oyster. It does not take long for this "good news" event to cause a problem for the grower.
Wild strike on LOC farmed oysters, as shown here, can still make it to the table if the quantity or size of the strike is manageable for shucking and the intended presentation. After shucking, and shells are deposited into recycling containers, we call this living shell because as shown, the top and bottom shells of this single farmed oyster are now host to 10 wild oysters. We return live shell to the water quickly so these animals can continue to thrive and contribute wild oyster populations as they mature and spawn as adults. For every half-shell we recycle, there is often at least one wild oyster who has setup shop. So for every single oyster we grow in aquaculture, two wild oysters are put back to grow and reproduce. This is one reason why we say we leave more than we take.
LOC can do this immediate shell return because our oysters come from and are returned to the same water body within days. Oyster recycling programs for restaurants (such as S.O.S.) cannot do this as there is concern that oysters from other regions may introduce pathogens that could quickly decimate local oyster populations. Therefore, large scale shell recycling efforts "season" oyster shell in the sun and open air for about a year before the shell is returned to the water. Of course, by this time, whatever marine life might have been living on the shell has expired and the shell is considered sterile.
The spring oyster spawn starts to reveal its success in the fall. Look for youngsters as you enjoy your oysters in the fall and marvel at their tenacity and consider the grower's role. A oyster shell without strike means that it has been regularly and consistently handled. This is done by manually tumbling in baskets, via automated tumblers or passively accomplished through the use of floating gear. In these scenarios, if young oysters did strike, they are effectively knocked off during this handling process.
If this fall’s wild strike on LOC’s oysters is any indication of what is happening throughout the Lynnhaven and Broad Bay, wild oyster populations are tracking positively.