A Stable Business Needs a Stable Feed Stock

The problem in the Northern Gulf of Mexico with the oysters that we've all been trying to grow is that this type of oyster is not genetically programmed to grow here.

We were handed oyster seed by oyster industry leaders in our part of the country that is "triploidy", in that the harvestable oysters that result from the eventual maturation of the triploid seed will not attempt to reproduce themselves. There are several big reasons to promote the use of an oyster that does not spawn. For instance, if you have ever eaten a "spawned-out" oyster, you know what I mean: the meat is mealy and unappealing. For the consumer, it is not a good experience. Also, because a triploid oyster is not using any energy to replicate itself, it grows quickly and is market-ready a month or so faster than its wild cousins - the diploids.

The triploid oyster industry was established decades ago and the genetic lineage of the triplody lines include genes from both the East Coast of the U.S. and the West Coast. However, when you try to convince modern triploid oysters to grow in the Northern Gulf of Mexico, the results are disastrous. Oyster Boss's long term success ratio with triploid products is less than thirty three percent. We have lost millions and millions of oysters that should have made it to market, and of course, we've lost the money that those products would have generated.

I ruefully refer to the back parking area of the Oyster Boss compound as my "half-million dollar parking lot". It is probably worth a lot more.

At Oyster Boss, we were really good at killing oysters for the first five years of our existence. But, it turns out that we probably were destined to fail because of the instability of the triploid oyster. You see, no one told the nascent Florida oyster aquaculture industry that the genetic heritage of the seed we were trying to grow was NOT native. It was a small oversight on the part of industry leaders that has cost millions and millions of private investment dollars and doomed dozens of small aquaculture companies who burned through their investment capital and then closed.

I contacted the man who owns the proprietary rights to the triploid technology that the US aquaculture industry is currently using (successfully - no doubt in many parts of the country OTHER than the Gulf of Mexico). Last summer, when I introduced myself to him by telephone, he made me believe that he was NOT aware of the extent of problems our industry was experiencing in Florida. He also made me believe that he was concerned, and he promised that he would be following back up with me (and others in our area). From that day until this, nothing has happened - that I am aware of.  I've never heard from him again.

Meanwhile, I bought 130,000 tetraploid seed last year that has Florida genetics. I was told upon purchase that the seed had no royalty obligations to be paid to the aforementioned owner of the proprietary rights to the technology. We planted the seed on our leases and gave it the same husbandry practices that we use for all of our oyster seed.

Those tetraploid oysters - the ones with the promised Florida genetics - has performed miserably. One third of the seed has not grown. A second third of the seed has grown only marginally and is stunted.  The last third seems to be growing at a healthy rate and will probably mature into a standard-sized oyster.

Does that math look familiar? That's right --  it is virtually the same ratio of success / failure that we've had from our first attempt at growing triploid oysters. What I believe is that the idea that a set of Florida oyster genetics is going to save the industry looks very, very dubious. I'll let you draw your own conclusions.

I call it hocus pocus. It's malfeasance. It's malpractice.

I will have nothing at all to do with the so-called Florida triploid lines until the industry leadership PROVES that they've got a stable product. Until then, we will continue to pull diploid brood stock from the waters where we grow oysters and propagate seed from those oysters. If industry leaders can bring a stable product with a twenty percent or less loss ratio to Florida, and can prove that it works, I'll buy it. Until then, I won't be wasting Oyster Boss time or money on their failed technology.

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