International researchers study new aquaculture species for BC

by NationTalk on September 20, 2009721 Views

What do the countries of Canada, Nigeria, China, the United Kingdom and Russia have in common?

Their scientists are all contributing to the development of a new aquaculture shellfish species for British Columbia.An international team of researchers is working on a series of projects at the Centre for Shellfish Research (CSR) at Vancouver Island University’s Nanaimo campus to determine the commercial viability of the native cockle.

Dr. Yomi Alabi, originally from Nigeria, and Dr. Wenshan Liu from China, collaborated with Dr. Chris Pearce (Fisheries and Oceans Canada) in 2006 to undertake the initial investigation into broodstock conditioning and early larval development.

They collected broodstock from waters around Vancouver Island and induced them to spawn at CSR research facilities. It was the first large scale larval culture of its kind at VIU.

Building on these positive beginnings, the work continues under the leadership of Dr. Helen Gurney-Smith from the United Kingdom, who joined the CSR in 2007 as head of the Shellfish Health and Husbandry Program, and Dr. Anya Epelbaum, a researcher from Moscow, Russia who joined the team earlier this year.

Studies into hatchery development of the native cockle have shown promising results, and now research is focusing on the best methods for growing cockles in the ocean.

Dr. Epelbaum, along with the shellfish husbandry team, has been taking the juvenile cockles – some as big as five centimeters – and placing them in the ocean near the soon-to-be constructed Deep Bay Field Station to observe their growth rate.

“Since spring, we have been looking at growing them intertidally on the beach and comparing that to growing cockles suspended in nets,” explained Epelbaum. “The two different culture systems are performing well.”

Epelbaum, who completed her PhD in Russia and a two-and-a-half year post-doctoral project at Nanaimo’s Pacific Biological Station, said it’s exciting to be part of the team that could help develop a new aquaculture shellfish species for BC.

“Not only are cockles native to BC, they have special significance to First Nations people as one of their preferred traditional food sources,” said Epelbaum. “It’s interesting to note that most cultured shellfish aquaculture species in BC are non-native to these waters. It would be nice to see the commercial viability of a native species.

“Preliminary research shows there is good potential for the cockle to become a new aquaculture shellfish species, but we still have to conduct a lot more research before we can say for sure,” added Epelbaum. “ It definitely looks promising.”

Cockles grow quickly and are already adapted to the local coastal environment. Full grown cockles, sometimes called ‘basket cockles’, can reach up to seven centimeters in diameter. Factors affecting their growth rate include density, culture depth, and availability of food.

The cockle research team includes graduates from VIU’s Biology and Fisheries and Aquaculture programs, and undergraduate student researchers, including Dan McNeill and Andrea Bozman. McNeill and Bozman were both employed as summer research assistants working with Epelbaum this summer.

“The practical experience I gained, coupled with my education, will make me a stronger applicant for future employment,” said Bozman. “I had the opportunity to apply course material while learning even more skills from internationally trained research scientists.”

The cockle research projects have all been funded through the Aquaculture Collaborative Research and Development Program from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canada in collaboration with industrial partner Evening Cove Oysters Ltd.

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