NIC Engineering student Johnny Marshall lowers a prototype oyster grow-out system into the ocean for testing in Campbell River. Photo courtesy NIC

NIC Engineering student Johnny Marshall lowers a prototype oyster grow-out system into the ocean for testing in Campbell River. Photo courtesy NIC

NIC partners with Cortes shellfish company on oyster research

Study and testing hoping to mitigate the impacts of warming oceans on oyster mortality

North Island College’s Centre for Applied Research, Technology and Innovation (CARTI) is collaborating with a shellfish aquaculture company based on Cortes Island to build and test an innovative grow-out system for Pacific oysters.

Pacific oysters are the most commercially-important farmed shellfish in the province, according to the school’s release on the partnership. But in recent years, warming ocean temperatures seem to play a factor in increased oyster mortality across the B.C. shellfish aquaculture sector, and there is an immediate need for new farming methods that improve oyster survival in the face of changing ocean conditions.

Rising Tide Shellfish (RTS), however, has created an innovative system for raising Pacific oysters that requires less labour and improves oyster performance compared to standard grow-out trays. In a preliminary trial at RTS, oysters in the new system had very low mortality, the school says, whereas the same batch of oysters in standard oyster trays experienced high mortality.

Erik Lyon, founder and CEO of RTS, says the company approached NIC with their system to see if a partnership could form, and the school was more than happy to collaborate.

“We think it’s important to come up with solutions to the problems we’re facing in shellfish productions because of climate change,” Lyon says. “Not only could this new grow-out system improve RTS’s production efficiency, but it could have far-reaching opportunities throughout the B.C. shellfish aquaculture sector. We approached NIC to work with us on this next step because of its history of innovation and its work in aquaculture in B.C.”

Now Lyon and RTS will work directly with NIC faculty Scott McGregor and Allison Byrne and NIC students to construct a more refined prototype and formally test the new system against standard oyster trays by measuring oyster growth and survival.

Naomi Tabata, CARTI Manager at NIC sees many benefits of supporting local shellfish growers through applied research.

“We are really excited about this collaboration with RTS,” Tabata says. “Shellfish aquaculture is such an important part of our North Island communities, and to Canada’s sustainable food production, but growers are facing some major production challenges. This project will help address some of these challenges by combining our expertise at the college with that of RTS.”

The research began in October of last year and will take approximately six months. Once complete, RTS plans to use the new grow-out system design in their operations and scale up production of the new system for widespread use on their farm and for use by other growers.

This isn’t CARTI and NIC’s first foray into aquaculture research. Back in 2018, as just one example, the school’s Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) industrial research chair for sustainable aquaculture at NIC was looking into how to make kelp a viable economic resource here on the Island.

For more information on CARTI projects, or to learn about working with CARTI on applied research projects, visit www.nic.bc.ca/research

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