World Aquaculture - September 2023

WWW.WAS.ORG • WORLD AQUACULTURE • SEPTEMBER 2023 39 Oysters are a vital part of many coastal communities, providing jobs and sustenance to millions of people. Oysters also play a crucial role in maintaining healthy marine ecosystems, but despite advances in technology for off-bottom farming, on-bottom oyster farming has remained largely unchanged for decades. To help improve this situation the Smart Sustainable Shellfish Aquaculture Management (S3AM) project, led by the University of Maryland (UMD), aims to develop innovative technologies to make the farming process more precise, predictable and sustainable. On-bottom oyster farming involves growing oysters directly on the seafloor, as opposed to offbottom farming which grows oysters in cages or trays in the water column. Off-bottom farming has become increasingly popular in recent years because it allows for greater control over oyster growth, size and shape, but on-bottom farming remains an important tradition for many communities and can offer advantages in terms of cost of production and sustainability. Bottom cultured oysters are typically grown from spat-on-shell, where tiny oysters are attached to aged and washed shells. Oyster larvae are obtained from a hatchery and attached to shells in setting tanks. The farmer then spreads the spat on shells across the farm bed, aiming to achieve an even distribution of oysters. Depending on the bottom substrate, it may require preparations, including a layer of base material such as oyster shells to prevent the spat on shells from sinking into the bottom and smothering. The oysters are then left to grow for three to four years before they are harvested using a dredge. During that time the oysters remain mostly out of sight on the seafloor, leaving ample room for things to go wrong. It is challenging for farmers to determine the quantity and distribution of oysters, as well as to track their health and growth. Current methods of surveying include divers using transect lines or periodic samples using patent tongs, a device that grabs a small sample from the seafloor. These are fairly accurate but are also very time-consuming. As a result, bottom culture oyster farming has traditionally relied heavily on the farmer’s experience and intuition. Find My Oyster aims to make the farming process more precise and predictable by providing farmers with more detailed information about their farm. The app is designed to be accessible and easy to use for onbottom oyster farmers, with minimum upfront effort and without causing disruptions to current operations. The software consists of two main components: a web application based on FarmOS and a mobile application. FarmOS is an opensource system for farm management, planning, and record keeping. It provides farmers with a centralized platform to manage staff, assign tasks, and monitor progress. Through the web application, farm owners can easily add staff members, manage permissions, and view data that has been collected on their farm. The mobile app is designed primarily for recording field data, even in areas with poor internet connectivity. Each staff member with an account can download the app and sign in. The app presents the user with a list of tasks that have been assigned to them. The app makes it easy to start and stop data recording, for example, when seeding or harvesting. When internet connection is available the app will upload data to the web application. By recording data in realtime, app users ensure information is accurately captured and up to date. It is worth noting that all data is kept private to each farm and their staff. The app has been designed with security and privacy in mind, ensuring that sensitive information is protected at all times. Farmers can be confident in their use of the app and the safety of their data. For a concrete example of how the app can help, consider the process of seeding an oyster bed. Seeding is a laborious and imprecise process. Farmers typically throw hundreds of bushels of spat-on-shell off their boat into the water while moving the boat randomly across the bed. The goal is to spread the seed evenly across the bottom, but there is no way to see if it’s spread evenly or if there are blank spots. It typically takes many trips out on the water to seed each acre of the Find My Oyster — A Software Tool for Improved Bottom Culture Shellfish Farming Gudjon Magnusson FIGURE 1. Oyster farmer taking about 200 bushels of dry shell which is used as substrate for a new oyster bed. The tablet in front him helps him navigate to the farm and records where the shells were dropped. It takes many trips like this to prepare the oyster bed. Photo: Gudjon Magnusson (CONTINUED ON PAGE 40)