Oysters are not simply a commodity, for many Americans they are a symbol of a way of life. Sadly over the past decade, natural oyster reefs and subsequent wild harvests have dramatically declined to a fraction of historic levels. This trend has necessitated the need for an alternative source – aquaculture, or farming of the seas. Aquaculture is not only a sustainable method of producing protein for a growing global population but also relieves harvest pressure on the wild populations. In some cases, such as oysters, the extensive process provides ecological benefits that improve the quality of entire ecosystems.
The Gulf coast oyster aquaculture industry is burgeoning but experiencing bottlenecks. Lack of consistent, quality seed availability not only limits industry-wide development but simultaneously puts farms at financial risk. In response FOC has developed an innovative, patent-pending model to self-sufficiently produce oysters available to help farms aspiring to produce mass volume but cannot due to an inconsistent supply chain. This production model is breaking the chain of globalizing an antiquated concept and bringing fire to the people.
Most importantly FOC is championing seafood integrity. Goods and services available through the Florida Oyster Trading Company will be authentic products of their environments, utilizing genetics from the estuaries in which the harvests are grown – not outsourced from other bays or even other states. Florida seed spawned with Florida broodstock to be raised in the same Florida estuaries, certified by Florida's Division of Aquaculture Best Management Practices protocols and standards. Adhering to the highest of standards.
The Florida Oyster Trading Company - Authentic, Craft Oysters
Stationed on the deep blue waters of Pensacola Bay, The Florida Oyster Trading Company is a ‘for the industry, by the industry’ resource provider for local oyster aquaculture farms. Working in collaboration with the Florida Sea Grant IFAS extension, they plan to equip local oyster farms with fresh seed, wet storage, and processing infrastructure. Josh Neese, founder and aquaculture veteran, started the business to generate a larger industry-wide impact, and recognized that the most prevalent need of Gulf Coast oyster farmers is access to local seed.
The micro-hatchery model is critical in decentralizing the industry and creating more localized seed producers, promoting greater seafood authenticity, and growing the blue economy at a local level. Ultimately the micro-hatchery model will help restructure the industry and provide more producers with oyster seeds from their own area, which is critical to the success of these seeds given that seeds produced from out of their area, may or may not be suitable to the farms’ estuary.
While The Florida Oyster Trading Company is just getting started with their formal oyster seed production, Josh has been working with the aquaculture community in the Pensacola region for years. They’ve engaged with traditional wild harvesters to identify the once fertile oyster beds in the south end of the bay for cultivation. They intend to establish a cluster of oyster farmers to restore oyster habitats and to reinvigorate wild oyster populations through innovative and holistic practices. To do this, they’re leveraging the best international AgTech developed by SmartOysters and employing a small footprint to minimize overhead and maximize efficiency.
Josh Neese has been exploring, studying, and deepening his understanding of oysters and oyster seed on America’s Gulf Coast since 2008. He served as the hatchery manager for Alabama DNCR Division of Marine Resources in Gulf Shores for five years and spent a year as a biologist with Louisiana Fish and Wildlife in Grand Isle. In both roles, he worked in an aquaculture facility rearing oysters and finfish in order to supplement and restore wild-stock populations. He also spent two years producing commercial oyster seed and managing farm operations as the VP of Operations for a private oyster operation. In April 2020, in an effort to generate a larger industry-wide impact, and recognizing that the most prevalent need of oyster farmers is access to local seed, he founded The Florida Oyster Trading Company.
Josh has a B.S. in Marine Biology and M.S. in Fisheries and Aquaculture from the University of West Florida, and he is the US representative for SmartOysters. He is extremely well-positioned to make an impact as, through his experience, he has built expansive and long-lasting connections to farms, NGOs, suppliers, and state agencies throughout the country.
SUSTAINABLE AQUACULTURE PRACTICES
Too many oyster farmers are limited to purchasing out of state seed (and only when it’s available) in order to grow in local estuaries. This is both economically and ecologically unsustainable. In contrast, The Florida Oyster Trading Company maintains local genetic authenticity while assisting farms with seafood integrity and sustainability. They do this in a number of ways.
As consumers enjoy the true, native products of the local waters facilitated by The Florida Oyster Trading Company’s resources, we’re engaged in supporting both local blue businesses and the ecosystem restoration that local oyster farms are undertaking.
Our production site is in a high nutrient area with the salinity necessary for developmental growth, so we never have to use chemical treatments and can rely on native algae for feed.
Our patent-pending micro-hatchery production model produces authentic local seed and genetic certification for farmers by utilizing only locally and sustainably sourced broodstock.
By cultivating a cluster consisting of farms, we’re piloting a scalable enterprise that can be a model across the country.