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April 03, 2003   Email to Friend 

Written by Katie Smith:
Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
April 03, 2003

DAUPHIN ISLAND, Ala. -- The Auburn University Shellfish Lab (AUSL) on Dauphin Island, a new facility designed to support Alabama's shellfish resources and industry, officially opens its doors on Friday, April 11, at 11 a.m. during a building dedication ceremony to be held on-site.

According to David Rouse, interim head of the Department of Fisheries and Allied Aquacultures at Auburn University (AU), Auburn has long been involved in efforts to protect and cultivate shellfish resources. That effort will now intensify, thanks to AUSL.

The lab, which is a unit of the AU College of Agriculture's fisheries and allied aquacultures department, was established with industry input to foster production of high quality shellfish products and to protect shellfish resources in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is located on land leased from the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, an ideal site for AUSL to pursue its scientific endeavors and broaden the involvement of various stakeholders.

The AUSL's mission is to provide instruction, research and outreach services in the area of shellfish production to the citizens of Alabama, the region and the nation, Rouse said.

"We will meet our mission by providing formal instruction at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab, by providing research opportunities to Auburn University faculty and students and through an outreach program conducted by the Auburn University Marine Extension and Research Center in Mobile," he said.

Shellfish, such as shrimp, oysters and crabs, are vital commodities harvested from the Gulf of Mexico. They provide significant contributions to Alabama's commercial and recreational fishing industry and significant economic value to coastal communities.

In 2001, Rouse noted, Alabama shellfish landings from the Gulf of Mexico totaled some 17.8 million pounds valued at $41.5 million. Of that amount, shrimp represented 16.2 million pounds at a value of $37.9 million, crabs totaled 1.1 million pounds worth $2.5 million and oysters totaled 500,000 pounds valued at $1.1 million. In fact, the Gulf of Mexico produces 79 percent of the nation's shrimp landings, 35 percent of blue crabs and 70 percent of oysters.

"Maintaining a continuing and sustainable supply of shellfish from the Gulf of Mexico is essential to the Alabama seafood industry," said Rouse. It also is vital to protecting the balance of life in the Gulf, he added.

AUSL will cooperate closely with the Alabama Agricultural Experiment Station, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources' Marine Resources Division, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a host of other organizations.

The lab is equipped with many exceptional and high-tech features. Two of the most exciting and innovative are a 4,000-square-foot wet lab and a 500-foot salt water intake and delivery pipeline that extends into the Gulf of Mexico.

Scott Rikard, manager of the facility, explained that the wet lab area allows researchers to spawn shellfish and raise the resulting larvae and juvenile animals for research projects, restoration projects and stock enhancement projects. The lab's hatchery has the capacity to raise 10 million oyster larvae and 1 million to 2 million oyster spat (young oysters, usually less than a year old) at any given time. The hatchery also can store 12,200 gallons of seawater in two 6,100-gallon storage tanks. This water is used for applications where finely filtered water is needed.

The pipeline, which is buried in the sand to maintain and preserve the aesthetic quality of the public beach, delivers a constant supply of high-quality seawater to the facility to aid in research activities. "We can bring in seawater straight from the Gulf to the hatchery at 300 gallons per minute," said Rikard. This water will be stored in two 6,000-gallon tanks, then delivered to smaller culture tanks ranging from 30 to 2,300 gallons, which will serve as experimental units for research, holding tanks for broodstock and rearing tanks for larval and juvenile shellfish.

Current priorities for the lab include restoring and enhancing natural oyster reefs and enhancing the development of viable aquaculture industries in Alabama and the region. The lab also will provide formal education opportunities for the state and region and offer educational materials and demonstrations related to wise development of coastal and marine resources. AUSL's goals include fortifying and improving the production and survival of oysters, shrimp and crabs; increasing knowledge of the diseases affecting shellfish health and food safety; enhancing the survival and culture of bait species; increasing public knowledge of mariculture through tours and targeted group meetings; and cooperating with federal, state and other public agencies to identify emerging issues and critical research needs.

For more information on the facility or the dedication ceremony, contact Kelley Terry at 334-844-3209 or terrykl@auburn.edu, or Rikard at 251-861-3018 or srikard@acesag.auburn.edu.

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