Marine Science Chapters


Oyster Mariculture

by Genevieve (Genny) Anderson, Biological Sciences Department, Santa Barbara City College

Oysters are a commonly cultured shellfish around the world. Several species of oysters lend themselves to profitable mariculture farms - some requiring warm water and others requiring cool water. Oysters are eaten raw or cooked. These bivalves have international appeal. With native populations declining in many areas the mariculture of oysters can be a booming business if the company has access to a clean and proper seawater supply.

Oyster Shells
Maricultured oyster shells. (GA image)

Westcott Bay Mariculture Operation
In Westcott Bay on San Juan Island in the State of Washington a successful oyster farm uses the clean and plankton rich waters of Westcott Bay for their product. Oysters are filter feeders, feeding entirely on plankton in the sea water. The waters of Westcott Bay are rich in plankton and the farmed oysters grow to maturity quickly. (GA image)

Barrel for oyster spat
Oyster spat (baby oysters) are placed in barrels that are lowered into the plankton rich water. (GA image)

Oyster spat trays
After a time in the barrels, the baby oysters are spread out in trays. The trays are stacked high, tied together and lowered into the water. The perforations in the trays allow water to flow through, providing food for the babies. The stacks of trays are left hanging in the water until the oysters are several inches in size. (GA image)

Mesh tubes for juvenile oysters
Juvenile oysters are transferred to the mesh tubes until they grow to maturity. (GA image)

Mesh tubes for juvenile oysters
The mesh tubes hang vertically in the water with a round buoy at the surface. The long tube has separate compartments to keep the developing oysters surrounded by water and with plenty of space to grow. (GA image)

Harvesting the oysters Harvesting the oysters
Harvesting the oysters at Westcott Bay can be time-consuming when they are ready. The mesh tubes are put in a unique box that is used to remove the shelfish when they are adult size. The oysters land in plastic crates which makes them easy to move around for sorting. (GA images)

Sorting the oysters
The workers sort the different sized oysters and pack them for shipping. (GA image)

Fresh Oyters for sale at Westcott Farm
The oyster farm has fresh oysters for sale on San Juan Island. The farm is not near a big city so the customer base is limited. Most of their product is shipped to restaurants all over the world. (GA image)

Shucking the oysters
Opening the oysters is called 'schucking' and with a little practice it works easily. A special knife is inserted into the hinge area and with a twist the two shells come apart. (GA image)

Opened oyster
Only one muscle holds the two shells of the oyster together. This muscle must be cut before the oyster can be opened. The entire body of the oyster is eaten - gills, gut and muscle. (GA image)

Eating the fresh oyster
Eating a fresh oyster is a fun and delicious experience. Many people, like myself, like the raw oyster topped with a special cocktail sauce laced with horseradish. Yum! (SA image)

 Copyright and Credits
(Revised 16 November 2007)
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