Profiles
Passionate farmers and technical experts are undaunted by challenges in their quest to buoy Alabama’s fledgling shrimp industry.
A visually appealing fish and short time to market are just some of the pluses of raising fish on land, says America’s sole producer of RAS-raised European seabass
Ryan Chatterson, a commercial aquaponics farmer and consultant in aquaponics design, engineering and educational services discusses how adding greens to your salmon makes a lot of sense.
Deep-water fishing project faces many regulatory challenges
The pristine waters of British Columbia provide Stellar Bay Shellfish the ideal growing conditions for its oysters for known their small size but plump meat.
Maine company focuses on oyster seed, the half-shell market and R&D
The prehistoric fish takes an epic time to mature. After harvesting, there are still a few more steps to ensure the quality reflects its premium price.
An interview with the director of the University of Idaho’s Aquaculture Research Institute

Since its establishment in 1988, the Aquaculture Research Institute (ARI) at the University of Idaho has been home to significant work looking at food production, fisheries enhancement and stock restoration. A driving force behind ARI’s work is its director, Ron Hardy. Though he is proud of the work that has been done over the years at the institute, Hardy says that’s not the most important part of their work.

“I had a wise mentor explain to me that we are in the information business,” says Hardy. “He asked what I thought we did as scientists, I said we invent this or we discover that. He said, ‘no, our role isn’t necessarily to solve the problems that industry has today, ours is to work on today’s problems but also looking down the road to the future as best we can and see what the needs might be or what questions might arise. We see ourselves as mini-futurists, in a way.

When ARI began doing selective breeding, no one else was pursuing such work and no one requested it of them, he says. But they decided that they needed to do it because there would come a time when it would be important.

“That time is now,” says Hardy. “Actually, it’s past now, but you get the point. We need to get our information into the hands of people in the industry or other scientists or government people who are working on policy or regulations. These policies and regulations will be part of the fabric of how the industry operates and dictate its success or failure.

ARI’s work is focused on discoveries that advance sustainability. Hardy’s experience is as a fish nutritionist. His entire career, hes been focused on alternative proteins and fats. Hes also been focused studying protein retention, which is the percentage of protein ingested that’s retained as protein gain in the body over a set period of time. Hardy says he was appalled 20 years ago when he found that the rate was in the 20-25 percent range. Across the industry, that protein retention rate has reached the low 40s, but he still wants to know what happens to that other 60 percent.

“We’ve focused on that a lot, in collaboration with the USDA,” says Hardy. “We’ve looked at how to better manufacture feed, how to grind it better, how to make better pellets. We’ve also looked at lowering the environmental impact of aquaculture through increasing phosphorus retention.”

Another ARI effort Hardy speaks fondly about is a trout breeding program that utilizes all-plant protein diet. The feeding regime, coupled an aggressive selection program, has improved the performance of trout over eight generations and they now grow twice as fast as when the program started 16 years ago.

“We’re looking at why. What’s different in these fish – digestion, intestinal transporters, whatever – compared to non-selected fish and are there genetic markers that we can identify that we can go into another population, or another species even, and say ‘these individual fish have these characteristics that are linked to increased performance. They should be used for future generations.’”

Hardy says USDAs funding support has enabled ARI to conduct such programs. Much of ARI’s funding comes in two- to four-year grants, but more sustained funding is required to conduct genetic improvement effectively. ARI also conducts many shorter-term projects through funding from industry partners around the world. When Canada’s Enterra was looking into developing insect meal (as reported in ANA Sept 2017), ARI conducted the testing and evaluation of the feed. Enterra has since received approval from the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to sell its whole dried black soldier fly larvae as a feed ingredient for salmonids.

ARI is currently building a new fish lab on their campus, which will have the capacity to work on marine fish. This will allow them to apply the findings of their trout research into species such as salmon, amberjack and yellowtail. The new lab is expected to start operations by the end of year.

Hardy is something of an elder statesman in the aquaculture research community. With new frontiers of research opening up, the industry veteran says today is an exciting time for aquaculture. “I wish I were starting my career now instead of ending it.

“It’s a very exciting time with new genomic technologies that let us look deeper into how fish operate, how the world works, how life works, in a way,” says Hardy. “We’re well positioned here at our laboratory, and I think the research community as a whole is well-positioned to make a substantial contribution to aquaculture in the future.



Real Oyster Cult pioneers B2C overnight delivery of fresh oysters from 70 US farms

Contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, there are no secret rituals or sacrifices involved in joining Real Oyster Cult.

“Our hashtag and tagline - #jointhecult – is all about joining, having fun, and is wink, wink, get in on the party,” says Sims McCormick, the creative force behind Real Oyster Cult’s unique marketing. “We’re a cult of oyster lovers, life lovers. Let’s celebrate.”

McCormick’s husband Rob Knecht spent most of his working life on the water, running a maritime school, and working as a sailing coach. When the couple launched the oyster farm in 2006, Knecht also worked with a technology company. At that company, it was interactions with technologists, developers and designers that sparked the idea to build a company that used technology to get oysters directly to consumers, shipped overnight.

“We leverage our mobile app and our website to get in front of consumers online that want to source oysters from all over North America, and we make that happen for them,” says Knecht. “Our front-end technology really gives you access to the farmers, their story, and deeper dives if you’re really into flavour profiles, and details of the oyster and where they’re grown.”

Real Oyster Cult sells product from over 70 farms (including their own), rotating which farms are featured on a weekly basis. Some products will stay longer based on demand, but they make efforts to highlight a new farmer at least once a week through their newsletter and their platform.

Solving the technological and logistic challenges with this model is what Knecht calls their ”secret sauce.”

“We’ve solved some of those issues with technology,” says Knecht. “We not only have our front end technology, but our backend tech helps smooth that process out. Some of them are custom and proprietary, and others are technologies that you can get; whether it’s Slack technology [a cloud-based suite of collaboration tools] or another third party that we implement into our system.”

While Real Oyster Cult has sold oysters to chefs on a limited level, the majority of the clientele is B2C — end consumers who love oyster lovers and adventurous foodies. Knecht says they are riding the wave of Plated, Blue Apron and other ready-to-cook meal kits, which opened a window into people’s buying habits. They have shipped to all 48 continental states and their most popular markets currently include Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

However, freshness is important, particularly as it comes to shellfish. As always, Real Oyster Cult answers the challenge with technology.

“We use a little gel temp sensor in our package, which provides a level of security on temperature so that the consumer knows that they’ve stayed under about 50 degrees for the whole trip to their door,” says Knecht.

Cultivating a community

While the business certainly sees booms around holidays, where customers may want oysters for celebrations and events, they also have a monthly cult membership which sends 20, 40 or 60 oysters every month. The cult membership features oysters hand curated by Knecht and McCormick.

“We’re picking some very special oysters based on what’s highly in season and what’s tasting phenomenally,” says Knecht. “They’re going to be at their peak flavours and they’re going to be the best of the best. And we also try to pick what’s not readily available everywhere, oysters you may not find at any restaurant — ones that are only locally sourced, for instance. We like to give our cult members something special.”

The cult theme may be whimsical, but it also refers to a real community and culture which McCormick and Knecht attempt to cultivate. They interact directly with their customers through a variety of platforms. McCormick notes that their Facebook page is currently blowing up with excitement over Glacier Point oysters from Halibut Cove, Alaska.

“They obviously have a really nice community of supporters around them that were able to share the story and comment on it,” says McCormick. “The oysters are truly glacier-fed. Theirs is a great story – husband and wife team, raising oysters, mussels and kids in remote Alaska. We got a chance to tell their story across our platform and on social media last week and the response was tremendous. That’s really what we’re all about, trying to spread the love – give our customers direct access to the farmers and regions that grow oysters and giving the farmers a platform to shine.”

Award-winning

In November, Real Oyster Cult were one of the eight finalists awarded a cash prize at Fish 2.0’s 2017 Innovation Forum. Fish 2.0’s release says the winners were selected for ”simplifying supply chains while increasing income for fishers and farmers, bringing to market creative approaches to aquaculture production and traceability, and getting consumers excited about seafood.”

“We had a great experience there, met a lot of great people,” says Knecht. “Getting to meet folks and hearing about their challenges and different things they were working through at start-up. It was very refreshing. We still keep in touch with the folks that we’ve met through that. Trying to help each other out and network, even on a global scale, is what’s neat about the program, for sure.”

Looking forward, they hope that the networking opportunities that Fish 2.0 offers will help them as they develop their next steps forward – expanding into international markets, and, domestically, moving into a direct chef/pop-up model. But in the meantime, they are happy to grow their cult.

“We’ve had such a great response from people who said, ‘I never would have gotten any kind of live seafood shipped to my door. And I’ve never shucked an oyster before, but I did this, and I watched your video on how to shuck, and taught my daughter and had an amazing experience,’” says McCormick. “That is just so much fun for us. We converted them.”





Real Oyster Cult pioneers B2C overnight delivery of fresh oysters from 70 US farms

Contrary to what the name may lead you to believe, there are no secret rituals or sacrifices involved in joining Real Oyster Cult.

“Our hashtag and tagline - #jointhecult – is all about joining, having fun, and is wink, wink, get in on the party,” says Sims McCormick, the creative force behind Real Oyster Cult’s unique marketing. “We’re a cult of oyster lovers, life lovers. Let’s celebrate.”

McCormick’s husband Rob Knecht spent most of his working life on the water, running a maritime school, and working as a sailing coach. When the couple launched the oyster farm in 2006, Knecht also worked with a technology company. At that company, it was interactions with technologists, developers and designers that sparked the idea to build a company that used technology to get oysters directly to consumers, shipped overnight.

“We leverage our mobile app and our website to get in front of consumers online that want to source oysters from all over North America, and we make that happen for them,” says Knecht. “Our front-end technology really gives you access to the farmers, their story, and deeper dives if you’re really into flavour profiles, and details of the oyster and where they’re grown.”

Real Oyster Cult sells product from over 70 farms (including their own), rotating which farms are featured on a weekly basis. Some products will stay longer based on demand, but they make efforts to highlight a new farmer at least once a week through their newsletter and their platform.

Solving the technological and logistic challenges with this model is what Knecht calls their ”secret sauce.”

“We’ve solved some of those issues with technology,” says Knecht. “We not only have our front end technology, but our backend tech helps smooth that process out. Some of them are custom and proprietary, and others are technologies that you can get; whether it’s Slack technology [a cloud-based suite of collaboration tools] or another third party that we implement into our system.”

While Real Oyster Cult has sold oysters to chefs on a limited level, the majority of the clientele is B2C — end consumers who love oyster lovers and adventurous foodies. Knecht says they are riding the wave of Plated, Blue Apron and other ready-to-cook meal kits, which opened a window into people’s buying habits. They have shipped to all 48 continental states and their most popular markets currently include Texas, Ohio, Illinois, Florida, Colorado and Pennsylvania.

However, freshness is important, particularly as it comes to shellfish. As always, Real Oyster Cult answers the challenge with technology.

“We use a little gel temp sensor in our package, which provides a level of security on temperature so that the consumer knows that they’ve stayed under about 50 degrees for the whole trip to their door,” says Knecht.

Cultivating a community

While the business certainly sees booms around holidays, where customers may want oysters for celebrations and events, they also have a monthly cult membership which sends 20, 40 or 60 oysters every month. The cult membership features oysters hand curated by Knecht and McCormick.

“We’re picking some very special oysters based on what’s highly in season and what’s tasting phenomenally,” says Knecht. “They’re going to be at their peak flavours and they’re going to be the best of the best. And we also try to pick what’s not readily available everywhere, oysters you may not find at any restaurant — ones that are only locally sourced, for instance. We like to give our cult members something special.”

The cult theme may be whimsical, but it also refers to a real community and culture which McCormick and Knecht attempt to cultivate. They interact directly with their customers through a variety of platforms. McCormick notes that their Facebook page is currently blowing up with excitement over Glacier Point oysters from Halibut Cove, Alaska.

“They obviously have a really nice community of supporters around them that were able to share the story and comment on it,” says McCormick. “The oysters are truly glacier-fed. Theirs is a great story – husband and wife team, raising oysters, mussels and kids in remote Alaska. We got a chance to tell their story across our platform and on social media last week and the response was tremendous. That’s really what we’re all about, trying to spread the love – give our customers direct access to the farmers and regions that grow oysters and giving the farmers a platform to shine.”

Award-winning

In November, Real Oyster Cult were one of the eight finalists awarded a cash prize at Fish 2.0’s 2017 Innovation Forum. Fish 2.0’s release says the winners were selected for ”simplifying supply chains while increasing income for fishers and farmers, bringing to market creative approaches to aquaculture production and traceability, and getting consumers excited about seafood.”

“We had a great experience there, met a lot of great people,” says Knecht. “Getting to meet folks and hearing about their challenges and different things they were working through at start-up. It was very refreshing. We still keep in touch with the folks that we’ve met through that. Trying to help each other out and network, even on a global scale, is what’s neat about the program, for sure.”

Looking forward, they hope that the networking opportunities that Fish 2.0 offers will help them as they develop their next steps forward – expanding into international markets, and, domestically, moving into a direct chef/pop-up model. But in the meantime, they are happy to grow their cult.

“We’ve had such a great response from people who said, ‘I never would have gotten any kind of live seafood shipped to my door. And I’ve never shucked an oyster before, but I did this, and I watched your video on how to shuck, and taught my daughter and had an amazing experience,’” says McCormick. “That is just so much fun for us. We converted them.”





A Florida cooperative brings oyster farmers together to share experiences, get support and have a guaranteed place to sell their product, at a guaranteed price.

The Panacea Oyster Co-op is a collaborative enterprise borne out of a desire to strengthen and revitalize oyster farming in Florida’s Apalachee Bay and other parts of the estuary. By bringing together individual farmers to work towards a common goal, the co-op has brought its members collective benefits. Its efforts are paying off, for the co-op has been championed by US sustainable seafood investment forum, Fish 2.0.

The co-op was formed two years ago by a group of classmates at the Wakulla Environmental Institute’s Oyster Aquaculture program. While working on separate aquaculture operations, an Australian equipment supplier suggested that they consider forming a cooperative. It didn’t take much convincing; the group voted Rob Olin as CEO and, later, as chairman of the board.

“We just cobbled a team of very diverse but incredibly talented professionals together for the business side,” says Olin. “I think we’ve attained our goal, which is to provide our members with everything they need — support in terms of accounting, legal, finance, operations, and advertising and marketing. So all they have to worry about is growing the perfect oyster. We now have a pretty substantial juggernaut.”


A for-profit co-op


The co-op provides seed, ongoing training, technology and a guaranteed place to sell their product, at a guaranteed price. They also help them make effective business plans.

A key difference with many co-ops, Olin notes, is Panacea’s for-profit nature. “We have to have investors to build the infrastructure we needed. We have to have enough money to buy the marina to house everything. We had to have an actual structure for a USDA loan, so in that way we’re different.”

As CEO and chairman, Olin is the decision-maker for a lot of day-to-day issues, however, larger questions regarding operations or philosophical changes are made with the 30 members of the co-op. The rancher members and the board of directors both meet once a month, in additional to an annual shareholders’ meeting.

“We’ve been able to enhance the rancher’s performance by way of the financial allowance and economies of scale that we bring to the table,” says Olin. “This is brand new. And like anything you do that’s brand new, it’s like walking into a hotel room when the lights are off. You stumble around and you find your way and you start to get a rhythm, then you start to elevate your performance, and from that elevation you move on to perfect performance. We’ve been able to cover so much ground as a team that we could never have gotten done as any one individual.”

The co-op also benefits from their location, next to Florida’s Spring Creek, the largest freshwater spring in the world. The pure spring water flows through and mixes with the saltwater, making up North America’s most diverse estuary. Olin says this allows for algae to thrive, which feeds the oysters and allows them to grow more quickly. The location also has two tides per day, which keeps nutrients moving in and out.

“When you’ve got oysters that rely on filtering more than 50 gallons of water per day, giving them the mega nutrients that our waters do, that allows them to grow faster than anywhere else on the planet.”

The farming operations are centered around the Apalachee Bay, which is part of the same estuary as the Apalachicola Bay. Farmers in the Apalachicola Bay harvested as much as 100 million oysters per year five years ago, but this has gone down to less than five million now. Olin hopes Panacea’s efforts to resurrect the oyster industry in Apalachee Bay will inspire farmers in the Apalachicola Bay.

“We’re putting the money, capital and effort back into building the infrastructure into Apalachee Bay,” says Olin. “Hopefully folks in Apalachicola Bay will see the magic that happens from this reintroduction of oysters – a totally different way to harvest and they’ll embrace it and start doing it over in their own bay and bring back that incredible potential that they once had.”

Panacea Oyster Co-op was one of the winners of the recent Fish 2.0 competition. The co-op’s ability to organize people and motivate them to commit to a shared endeavour has been a key factor behind its win, says Olin. Part of the appeal for many in the oyster farming industry is the independence and freedom it allows, but the co-op has convinced its members to give up some of that freedom for the greater good.

“It’s kind of like the old west,” says Olin. “You’ve got a bunch of independent water cowboys and cowgirls. They can make their own agenda for the day because they can adjust to the tide, wind, temperature and current. They don’t especially like to be collaborators or joiners. But here, because the old ways—commercial fishing and commercial oyster harvesting—were gone forever, they saw hope in this new technology, this new way of doing things. And they committed, even though it went totally against their natural instincts and they’re building something much bigger than themselves.”


Vision


The goal of the co-op is to establish their model as a prototype that can be adapted in different areas, either as satellite operations, or the co-op can provide its services as mentors and consultants. The important thing is to help the industry get firmly established.

Oysters are the ideal panacea not only to help supply the world’s growing need for food but also to keep the waters healthy, says Olin. “Oysters are essential for the survival of 3,000 aquatic species. They’re the original filters in the aquarium. Take the filters out, the aquarium dies. Put the filters back, the aquarium comes back to life. The best thing we can do is put filters back in the aquarium. The best way to do that is through aquaculture. The best way to make sure coastal communities see it is through this collective collaboration of a co-op.”

As one of only two farms to produce the species in Quebec, Raymer Aquaculture has a strong foothold in the local market.
Early efforts invested into building natural, organic processes pay off for British Columbia’s Creative Salmon.
With a background in engineering and several years in aquaculture, Matt Clarke noticed the lack of innovative technical solutions and support services in the industry. To address that need, British Columbian Matt and his wife Heather Clarke co-founded Poseidon Ocean Systems in 2015 – a full-service aquaculture engineering and support company that specializes in infrastructure design, development, supply and installation.
Interest in aquaponics is growing, but the success rate is not exactly stellar. Greener Scenes Aquaponics (GSA) in Brazil, Indiana, is one of the few that has found commercial success. Their journey from small proof-of-concept to commercial success was exciting, to say the least.
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