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Fukui's Monthly News Letter

Industry needs commercialization

Technology-wise, the North American shellfish aquaculture industry is at a point of needing to make a kind of attitude adjustment to position itself for growth.

Thousands of experiments have been carried out over the past 20 years or so that provide us with a good base of scientific information to start from.

While it is important that we produce this information for a better understanding, it is also holding back the industry somewhat.

A long time ago a wise teacher commented that to learn to ride a bicycle you could read and study all you wanted, however, until you get on the bike and "do it", only then will you learn how to ride the bike.

The shellfish industry in North America - especially the East Coast - is still generally in the study stage, there will have to be a shift from R&D to commercialization in order for the next stage of growth to take place. For this to happen, many of the academia involved may well end up having slightly bruised egos. This is because it has been their focus for such a long time to stay within the confines of R&D programs that to make this shift to commercialization may be seen as a drift from their agenda.

Two cases in point are New Zealand and the West Coast of Canada; both have a 10 to 15 year advancement on R&D and production levels over the East Coast of North America. Both were forced into this due to either economic or lack of available areas for lease sites. Both had to work hand in hand with the R&D people and private enterprises to make it work. Both now enjoy very successful PROFITABLE Shellfish Aquaculture productions that are now able to underwrite the cost of new R&D Programs.

How this can benefit the East Coast of North America and other developing areas are simple, to get the point across they have "THEY HAVE MADE THE MISTAKES, why should we?"

They have the technology available (for sale, this is business!) that can fast-forward the growth of shellfish farming where it is needed.

Yet because we are still in the R&D stage in many cases we refuse to accept the proven and continue to experiment for answers in our own backyard.

There are a few exceptions to this on the North Atlantic Coast where we have R&D driven business people however they are few and far between.

The Chileans with respect to Salmon and the Chinese with respect to Bay Scallops have become major producers in a very short time, only because they looked around for the answers from other areas and adapted it to their environment and working culture.

I know and understand that there will be the questions or statements from some individuals that they did this without respect for the environment or species protection, however to get to the stage they are now at, they had to work hand in hand with both R&D and private commercial enterprise.

As I travel I am in contact with many of the devoted groups and individuals of the shellfish aquaculture industry, I still run across defiance of the aforementioned topic.

There is change happening, however more is still required. Several cases come to mind to illustrate this point.

1. The New Zealand Mussel Industry went from near collapse in the early 80's to $37 million per year farm production by the mid 90's. The first few years were spent pointing fingers of blame and researching methods to make a return. The turn around came however when they decided to abandon the old husbandry methods of shellfish farming and adapt new methods that reduced labour and increased yield.

While this did not happen over night it took a major financial commitment from the private sector and an understanding from the R&D sector to focus on business plan outputs that allowed a logical success path that complimented both groups.

An important point that must be fully understood is that the move to mechanization meant abandoning all previous methods and equipment and starting fresh. While this proved very successful because the industry was at a so called at the bottom stage we in North America are no where near the bottom with respect to available product.

Be aware that to partially adapt to the methods of New Zealand Mussel farms may very well cause failure unless you are ready to make the complete switch in grow out equipment and technology. Partial integration has already proven not to work with existing North American methods. The Government of Nova Scotia commissioned a report on the use of New Zealand type mussel socking a few years ago, adapting it to existing equipment. The report stated that there was no significant benefit to this type of socking, thus it turned a "thumbs down" on its use.

The bottom line is that the use of the material (socking) was no good unless you had ALL the right equipment to deploy it.

The lesson here is don't be so quick to adapt to methods that are successful unless you have a complete understanding of what your lease site and husbandry practices can adapt to. Step one is to assume that you can follow the success of someone that has a similar labour culture and grow out site parameters as you do.

There are some areas in New England that could do very well by studying the success of the mussel growers of Prince Edward Island, which have some similar conditions.

2. On the North West Coast of North America there has been some major advancement of the commercialization of Floating Upweller Systems (FLUPSYs).

More then 10 years ago they were doing a similar thought process with respect to the building of these as is now being done on the East Coast, that is to make them as cheaply as possible for experimental purposes. While it is very easy to build a mechanical driven unit for around $100.00 or a passive unit for much less, the West Coast growers have in some cases spent more than $150,000 on units that can produce more than 20,000,000 animals a year operated by only two people.

While it may sound like a lot of money you don't have to be a major at math to figure out the reduced labour cost, increased yield and the short return on investment time.

At this time I am unaware of any real commercial FLUPSYs on the East Coast. The good news is that it will probably happen soon, because at least one manufacturing firm on the West Coast has started production of the components. This will allow commercial units to be easily built and assembled anywhere in the world at a decreased cost with the ability to increase yield.

The lesson here is to think commercial numbers, not what it cost, more "what can it produce?" There are excellent opportunities here for cooperatives or true business minded groups or individuals.

3. A few months back while visiting one of the growers of the Martha's Vineyard Shellfish growers group I was shown a mini experiment using Durethene bags mounted horizontally on the side of a raft to control fouling while raising oysters. The idea was that the bag would be turned over every few weeks so that the top half of the bag was always above the water surface therefore there would be no fouling.

The interesting observation of this is that while the bag was in its normal position the amount of seed inside was of normally accepted stocking densities. This as laid out by the experience of many of the shellfish biologist involved with Oyster grow out experiments.

By installing the bag on its side all the seed was tightly packed together in an extremely high stocking density, they were all surviving and had great growth rates! This is exactly what a lot of the growers on the West Coast had found yet had been discounted as not being able to work with East Coast species.

From a business yield perspective all of a sudden the same capital gear cost was able to, because of increased stocking densities, produce a yield more than double. For those bean counters out there, work that towards the bottom line and consider the results.

An important note on this is that good water flow is required.

The lesson here is do some experimenting, remember one of the two rules I mentioned some time ago "what you learned yesterday is likely to change tomorrow."

4. Hatcheries have and will, for some time to come on a commercial scale, be an expensive for chance experiment.

There have been lots of cases where facilities can handle the hatching process however the next step of keeping the animal alive has met with many failures, yet the answers are available. The questions that have to be asked is "why don't the operators of these R&D hatcheries go to the facilities that have made it work, buy the technology and get on with the job?"

I witnessed one case where more than a million dollars had been spent to spawn close to 60 million animals over a two-year period and all but a few thousand had died. They could have purchased genetically selective larvae at less then a seven hundred dollars a million. For the "math people" that's a saving of more than $950,000. Business people sort of understand this stuff, it sort of makes you wonder why the others do not.

The lesson here is don't be afraid to buy the best technology that is available especially if it gives you direct savings or increased yield, integrate both the short term and long term thinking process.

In advance of some misunderstanding of the intent of this column I want to state that there are some great academics involved in R&D that the industry values and will definitely contribute to the growth of the industry. Those individuals know who they are and I hope you keep up the out standing work.

As for the others if you are not sure about the focus of the industry into the commercial phase then you need to start asking questions.

I would also like to say that there are some very fine commercial shellfish grow out sights and hatcheries that are doing very well on the East Coast, however you are the minority.

The Atlantic Coast of North America has much to offer, I may have come off a little tough on it however you call them as you see them.

As far as mention of the information in this column I will be dealing with each one with more detail in the future however if you need information before that or just want input, feel free to contact me by E-mail, fax or phone.

Contact Don Bishop at:
Fukui North America

110-B Bonnechere St.W.
Eganville, Ontario K0J 1T0

**NEW**Fax: 613-432-9494
Email: kate@fukuina.com or don@bishopaquatic.com

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