Industry on a different scale

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I am writing this from my Spartan hotel accommodation in Tongyoung city in the southern part of South Korea.  Early morning is a good time to write because my biological clock is exactly opposite the actual time here.  The Tongyoung area, along with sister city Geoje, is the epicenter for Korean oyster production. I am on what amounts to another foray in my personal mission to plaster the planet with polyploid oysters.

If you want to understand the extent of oyster culture in a global sense, then I recommend a trip to Asia, where the big three producers – China, Japan, Korea – together culture 95% of the oysters, Crassostrea gigas, on Earth (although in China, recent findings suggests that a good proportion of Chinese production comes from C. hongkongensis).  China produces about 85% of the world’s oysters, or around 3,800,000 metric tonnes (mt = 1,000 kilograms or 2,200 pounds), and the “laggards” – Japan and Korea – about 250,000 mt each.  Virtually all of this production is what we would call “spat-on-shell,” with the shell hung from long-lines whose buoys fill many of the bays around here (see video).

In Korea, the major product from culture is oyster meat with a production of about 40,000 mt.  Koreans like their oysters small so they are marketed at an average meat weight of 12g, which translates to about 3.3B oysters per year.  Some are grown larger, of course, and go to half shell trade mostly in Japan and China.

Although only 10% of production in Korea comes from hatcheries, 10% of a very large number is pretty big itself – in the neighborhood of 50B eyed larvae per year.  The scale of the operations are industrial-size and measurements are expressed in unfamiliar units.  “How many eggs do you stock in your 120 tonne (= 120,000L or 32,000 gal.) tank.”  Answer – “70 grams.”  “How many eggs is that?”  Answer:  “We don’t know.”  Or “How many eyed larvae do you put in your setting tank?”  Answer: “One kilogram.”  “How many larvae is that?”  Answer: “About 120M.”

In that the major product is meat, there is increasing interest in growing triploids.  In addition to the likely increase in meat yield from a triploid compared to a diploid, triploids in Korea portend an interesting twist in marketability.  Korea has occasional outbreaks of norovirus that occur primarily in the winter, while rare in the summer.  In summer, diploid oysters are not in prime condition, so some see triploids as a way to more productively fill the summer niche.  Marketability during the spawning season is the theme song of triploid (spawnless) oysters.

Korea is but another case of the hatchery world awakening to the possibility of adding value to the oyster product.  In the Chesapeake, added value from breeding is now axiomatic.  In Korea, and Asia in general – again where 95% of the oysters come from – adding value through breeding, triploidy, or both is rudimentary principally because the vast majority of seed still comes from natural spatfall.  But hatchery production is picking up especially to get those specialty products, and triploids are leading that charge, as they did in France.  To paraphrase Everett Dirkson in his infamous “real money“ quote, a billion triploids here and a billions triploids there, pretty soon you’re talking about real added value.

Video: The below video was taken on Saturday, May 25 looking out at one of the many Bays where oyster culture is practiced in the Tonyoung region, southeast Korea. Click the link below to view the video.

Panorama oyster culture

Maintenance

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Changing oil, winterizing, cleaning – not the most glamorous of activities, but arguably among the most important for sustaining operations.  In a sense, “maintenance” is the origin of this blog – maintenance of communications, that is.

ABC has had an interesting history.  In retrospect, it seems that the Virginia Legislature was prescient in passing the initiative that launched ABC in 1997.  To some extent, perhaps they were, but the road to “today” has been winding and, at times, opportunistic.  For example, ABC has been variously involved in restoration, molecular genetics, clam breeding, breeding disease resistance, non-native species, polyploidy, and remote setting.  Some of these things were on the path to where we are today and some were merely dead ends.  Ultimately, ABC has provided something of value to the emerging and growing industry and our aspirations – ABC’s and industry’s – have become common.  As Anu is always pointing out to me, ABC and the oyster industry are both, absolutely concerned with the bottom line.  We grew together to this state.

Given our common goals, it seems surprising to me that we are only now coming to mutual understanding and collaborative outlook on our activities.  Frankly, this is probably my fault.  I thought that our annual Stakeholders meeting, our distribution of brood stock to hatcheries, and an occasional public talk was sufficient communication.  In the early days, it probably was, but not today.  Not when so many businesses have so much of their bottom line tied up in what we are producing.  For example, the Stakeholder’s meeting provided a forum for exposition by ABC to industry but not a forum for the obverse – industry to ABC.

Recently, an Industry Advisory Committee (IAC) for ABC was established to enable two way conversation.  The IAC will probably become one of the seminal developments in ABC’s history, I can tell already.  Not only does it provide a colloquium for exchange of important issues from industry to ABC and vice versa, it provides a new avenue of transparency between us.

And that brings us to maintenance.  The Stakeholders meeting was once a year; IAC is three to four times a year.  But between those months is silence, there is scant opportunity for communicating.  Industry has businesses to run; ABC had crosses to spawn and experiments to deploy.  The Director’s Blog, then, is an attempt to shorten the intervals between communications.  Although it is largely one-way (although there will be opportunity to comment in the blog), the Director’s Blog means to promote transparency, the antidote to misconception and misinterpretation.  Frequently, but irregularly, this blog will contain information on happenings at ABC, on field observations from our research farms, occasion outbursts of data that may be of interest to our constituents, and, maybe, even updates on the Director’s occasional forays to distant places to promote tetraploid technology.  The content kind of depends on how well the maintenance is working.