Aquaculture North America

Cracking the shell

April 12, 2023
By Maryam Farag

Spat is collected in bags in September and grows in sheltered waters until spring, when it is sieved and sorted, as shown here on the boat of PenBay Farmed Scallops. Photo: Coastal Enterprises Inc.

For most aquaculture activity around the world, there are commercial hatcheries to provide seed, but that is not the case with sea scallops—yet. Currently, Maine farmers must collect spat from the ocean themselves or buy it from others who collect in volume.  

This challenge rises from the biology of the species itself: Placopecten magellanicus has one of the longest larval periods of any scallop, taking up to 45 days to settle. (In contrast, Eastern oysters require 12 to 20 days.) During that time, much can go wrong. Hatchery costs also build up.

To address the hatchery phase—which executive director of the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center Chris Davis describes as “a major challenge to overcome”—NOAA Sea Grant last October funded a three-year research project known as “Cracking the Shell.”  The effort is coming at the problem from different angles by tapping aquaculturists, shellfish biologists, microbiologists, aquatic immunologists, and economists from organizations, including Downeast Institute, Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center, Maine Sea Grant, Mook Sea Farm, Milford Marine Laboratory, and University of Maine.

All seasoned shellfish experts, team members were off to a fast start last fall, as Davis reported to the Milford Aquaculture Seminar in January. But the clock is ticking and the obstacle formidable. “Although there have been some successes with research-scale sea scallop hatchery production, repeatable, large-scale seed production has remained elusive and unreliable,” the team reported. “No commercial hatchery for sea scallops exists in the U.S. or anywhere else.”  

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