Crocheron hatchery has begun 2021 work

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Special to Dorchester Banner/Brent Burkhardt Natalie Ruark checks water clarity at Hoopers Island Oyster Co. docks on Tedious Creek in Crocheron

CAMBRIDGE — Hoopers Island Oyster Co. has initiated 2021 hatchery operations at its facility in Crocheron and its team is halfway through broodstock conditioning as it prepares for oyster larvae and seed production.

With winter winds whipping across Fishing Bay into the facility’s docks at Tedious Creek, hatchery manager Natalie Ruark and technician Stephanie Wiegand measure water salinity and temperature on daily basis. The conditions couldn’t be more different than the “false spring” they are creating inside the hatchery. Cold bay water is pumped into facility and gradually warmed to 70 degrees in tanks where approximately 700 broodstock oysters are acclimating to the environment.

“It’s faster than what Mother Nature would do, but the oysters can still tolerate it,” says Ruark. “We’re queuing them to produce egg and sperm earlier than they would in the natural environment.” At the same time, Ruark and Wiegand are busy growing algae that will be used to feed new oyster larvae once the broodstock strip-spawning process begins in mid-March.

As spring larvae and seed production ramps up, the hatchery team will be working in an expanded footprint that will increase production capacity by millions of oyster seed. A trailer outside the building is being outfitted with additional setting tanks and bottle upwellers, and a new reservoir tank triples filtered water storage from 3,000 to 10,000 gallons. Raw bay water will go through several stages of mechanical filtration that begins at a macro level and eventually separates out particles down to one micron.

UV sterilization is employed when clarity is particularly poor. “The goal is to produce more biosecure products that haven’t been exposed to the natural environment,” Ruark explains. “We have an outstanding record of favorable pathogen reports for the larvae and seed we produce for mid-Atlantic farms from New Jersey to the Carolinas. This is a way of meeting the more strict regulatory standards in states that are concerned about spreading pathogens that don’t exist there right now.” This includes Maine, whereupon approvals, Hoopers anticipates being a viable producer of seed for local oyster farmers.

Ruark encourages Delmarva oyster farmers to place their larvae and seed orders now. “Due to the high demand last year from the deficit we all faced in 2019, we weren’t able to over-winter seed as much as we do in a normal year,” she said. “So we really want to make sure farms have what they need in 2021.” Hoopers Island Oyster Co. is a resource for equipment, product and seed serving consumers, growers and conservationists on the Chesapeake Bay and in coastal regions around the world. Hoopers’ equipment sales and manufacturing division supports the aquaculture industry by producing and selling its own products and other brands, including gear, processing machinery and accessories.

The hatchery and nursery raises seed and oysters of all sizes for its farm and other growers as well as the restoration of public fisheries. The Company also grows and sells Chesapeake Gold oysters. More information is available on the company’s website hoopersisland.com.