The Cherrystone Aquaculture has been under the Ballard Oyster Company for years. The Ballard Oyster company is a family owned business that is now run by its fifth generation. You wouldn’t think of “family business” as you walk up to the aquaculture facility. Greeted by the overwhelming smells of shellfish my mind linked the smells to boxes being hand loaded nearby. I looked out beyond the buildings of the facility and saw the water, I wouldn’t mind waking up every morning and driving here to work. The enormity of the facility is what really surprised me. The “heart of the operation” is made up of 4 employees who take in calls, emails and faxes from over 100 of their customers, made up of restuarants and grocerers.
We learned the general practices of the facility, relationships with Co-ops for both clams and oysters and the issues that can arise within aquaculture. Aquaculture requires alot of investment, food (algae) for the larval clams, and electricity to power the upswellers that cycle sea water are just two of the expensive inputs for a successful harvest. For a clam the loss of one spawn is equivalent to $500,000. There are many ways that the cherrystone facility ensures the high quality of their product, tumbling to ensure that oysters do not form clusters is just one example (see picture of tumbler below). The position of the oyster in the bed of the water table is also important to its growth as it can determine the size overtime. As we have discussed in ecology many ecosystems are self regulating in the sense that they have interspecial competition. When a bed of oysters for example is laid out the ones near the edge may fare better and grow larger due to higher food levels and less competition.
I think that it is interesting to compare the advantages of aquaculture to wild harvests of oysters. The oyster population has seen a drastic decline, the advances in technology like those at Cherrystone have allowed us to create an artificial environment, monitored and protected by nets from predators humans are able to help restore populations of the oysters we depleted. Personally I think that the practices of aquaculture are great and clearly there is a high demand for the products that the Ballard Oyster Company produces. My only issue with the practice is that today there is a trend in our culture to slowly turn away from genetically modified or farm raised products. The production here you could say is an exception because the shellfish spends the most of its like if in the bay but I do not see it that way.
I am optomisitic that these types of aquaculture could help improve the health of the bay but how far will we go. In 100 or 200 years will we have an aquaculture for every species of flora and fauna in the bay just to ensure its survival? This practice gave me a bit of a false sense of hope that if they can restore the populations of oysters than maybe the bay will be saved. The final thought that I have is how much more sustainable are the aquacultural practices than wild harvest, because it seems to me that we are delaying our acceptance that humans are the ones that got us to this point, through the exploitation of the oysters.