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January 25 2007
For 26 years, the NEFSC Milford Laboratory has convened an annual aquaculture seminar, and staffer Walter Blogoslawski has chaired them all.
“The very first meeting was in 1975,” he said in a recent interview with The Ffiles. “Nine aquaculture industry people came to the lab asking how to solve a disease problem that was in Long Island Sound hatcheries.” Six scientists met with the culturists. “That’s how the whole thing was born.”
Blogoslawski has worked at the Milford Lab for 35 years on bacterial diseases that adversely affect shellfish survival both in hatcheries and in the wild. He is the author of 55 publications and “a few book edits” that include the complete collected abstracts of the Milford Aquaculture Seminar. The meeting was originally called the Shellfish Hatchery Workshop. In 1986 it became the Milford Shellfish Biology Seminar, and in 1993 was renamed the Milford Aquaculture Seminar.
At the end of February, just over two-and-a-half decades later, the 26th Milford Aquaculture Seminar drew more than 150 aquaculturists and researchers for three days of posters and presentations. Participants hailed from 13 states, 5 countries, 19 universities, at least 16 aquaculture companies, 3 secondary schools, several parts of NOAA, and a variety of state and federal governmental labs, institutes, and departments.
To Ronald Goldberg, who currently leads the NEFSC Aquaculture and Enhancement Division, the premise behind the seminar hasn’t changed much over the years. “Historically, it was a way for lab researchers to share their findings with the shellfish growing industry. Over the years it has just grown to include more academic researchers, people from government, regulators, anyone who has an interest in shellfish aquaculture.”
“Still, it’s all very relaxed,” said Blogoslawski. “If someone wants to chime in during a presentation, or ask a question, we can examine the issue right there in detail.”
The core agenda is structured around long-term research strengths at the Milford Laboratory: animal nutrition, disease prevention and treatment, animal husbandry, and genetics relative to the culture of shellfish and, more recently, finfish. “Essentially focusing on how to be more efficient at producing healthy animals,” as Blogoslawski described it."
The seminar has expanded enough now that there are special topics as well. This year, for example, a joint session on juvenile oyster disease was sponsored by two other NOAA components: the National Sea Grant Office and the National Ocean Service. Juvenile oyster disease was first detected in the early 1990s, and most research has focused on its cause and development of oyster strains that are resistant to it.
“Jay Lewis, a molluscan shellfish disease researcher from NOAA’s Cooperative Oxford Laboratory and Cheryl Woodley from NOAA’s Hollings Marine Laboratory had the idea,” said Goldberg. “They wanted to get researchers who had worked on juvenile oyster disease together with commercial growers.”
“They wanted people in the shellfish culture industry to hear what they had found out about the disease,” said Blogoslawski. “Since we would have 20 to 30 shellfish companies at the meeting as well as a lot of researchers, it was a perfect venue.” At the session, panelists concluded that a bacterium, Roseovarius crassostreae, is likely causing the disease.
There are many examples of practical improvements in aquaculture businesses that have come about owing to something learned at the Milford Aquaculture Seminar. One of the best, said Blogoslawski, was from 1985. “A company on Long Island, Frank M. Flower and Sons, ran into a naturally occurring disease called MSX that killed their entire oyster crop. Because they had only one crop, I suggested to them that it might be best to grow clams.”
The growers had their doubts about the plan since clams weren’t worth as much as oysters. “They went ahead with it,” said Blogoslawski, “and found that they could profitably grow clams as a second crop until the disease problem abated. That was very valuable for that company and helped keep them in business.”
Goldberg said the seminar’s format is its most enduring and valuable characteristic. “It serves as forum in the true sense of the word. It brings together people with a common interest in productive and sometimes surprising ways.” For example, some of the smaller independent growers formed the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association during the 22nd Milford Aquaculture Seminar in 2002.
Nothing succeeds like success, it’s said, and looking ahead Blogoslawski and Goldberg see more of that on the horizon for U.S. aquaculturists. “Shellfish aquaculture is already a success,” said Blogoslawski. “Many companies are involved in it and they are making money.”
“Finfish culture also has a bright future,” said Goldberg, “especially offshore cage culture, which is an emerging capability. I think it will be very important in the future. But even if the culturing is done offshore, there will still be a need for the kind of hatcheries we work with to provide the seed animals.”
In June of last year, the National Offshore Aquaculture Act was introduced in the Senate. Hearings on offshore aquaculture are scheduled before Senate Commerce Committee's National Ocean Policy Study Subcommittee on April 6.
Abstracts from the 26th Milford Aquaculture Seminar will be published in Vol. 25(2) of The Journal of Shellfish Research, due out in August 2006. The 27th Milford Aquaculture Seminar will itself be a special session at the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition set for this coming December in Mystic, Conn.