It takes nearly five years for oysters to get to slurp-able size.
A dozen Alaska oyster growers near Homer could triple their production if they had a new Flupsy. That’s a floating upwelling system critical for tiny baby oysters coming out after a year in their nurseries.
“There’s one Flupsy – a paddlewheel that keeps the water flowing so the babies in the bins get ocean algae. We no longer feed them when they go into the ocean. They depend on the water for their nutrients.”
Marie Bader is president of the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative including 12 farmers that share a facility on the Homer Spit for processing, marketing, shipping and now, through their mariculture association, culturing oyster seed.
“We should be independent from seed to plate – we should be able to grow our own seed from our own oysters. We are doing that now.”
The microscopic seed spend a year in bins in the electrically-driven paddlewheel in the Bay where the oysters are regularly cleaned and graded for a full year.
When they reach the size of a small fingernail, the oysters are sold to the farmers who will grow them out for another couple of years in floating lantern nets.
Bader says the current Flupsy is nearly 20 years old on its last legs.
“It’s been in salt water, it’s open to the elements, our workers have to work outside in rain, snow, keeping that paddlewheel going in the middle of winter is an exercise in brute strength and endurance. We have to boat over to Halibut Cove – hope the power hasn’t gone out. Shovel the show – winter crossings are always dubious. We need a new facility that is enclosed so that our workers are out of the elements and our seed is protected.”
The Flupsy is on Homer’s capital improvement list for a total cost of $175,000.
City manager Katie Koester called the co-op’s oyster businesses a “sparkling year round addition” to Homer and that “very cooler of oysters delivered to the dock represents $150 to the grower.”
Bader says a new paddlewheel could more than triple oyster seed production which sells for about $40 per thousand.
“We could produce more seed – instead of 3 million, even up to 10 million, could space the baby oysters out more so they weren’t so congested in the few bins we have.”
The Kachemak oyster growers sold 150-thousand dozen oysters last year.
“You go to Pike’s Market in Seattle and oysters are selling for $19-$20 a dozen so when we sell ours locally for $14-$16 retail and a bit less for restaurants. It’s pretty darn good value.”