Kauffman Aquaculture Center

  • KAC larval tanks
    KAC larval tanks  Larval tanks at the Kauffman Aquaculture Center. Each of these tanks can hold 2-3 million oyster embryos at the end of a successful spawning day.  Photo by Brittany Peachey
  • Broodstock
    Broodstock  Oysters being prepared for their pre-spawn cleaning at the Kauffman Aquaculture Center. Giving the oysters' shells a thorough scrub prior to spawning helps hatchery staff remove burrowing organisms and prevent excess bacteria from being introduced to the larval tanks.   Photo by Brittany Peachey
  • Strip spawning
    Strip spawning  ABC uses 'strip-spawning' methods in their hatcheries. Gamete tissues (eggs or sperm) are removed from adult animals by hand using a scalpel. This method allows researchers to assess the quality of each individual oyster before making decisions about which males and females should be paired during the spawn.   Photo by Brittany Peachey
  • KAC spawning table
    KAC spawning table  Spawning day at the Kauffman Aquaculture Center. Each large beaker contains eggs from one female oyster, each small beaker contains sperm from one male oyster, and medium beakers contain pooled eggs from multiple females. Colored labels show the lineage of each oyster.   Photo by Jess Moss Small
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The Kauffman Aquaculture Center (KAC) lies 30 miles north of Gloucester Point on Locklies Creek, a tributary of the Rappahannock River. The building was dedicated in 2004 and began operations in 2005.

The construction of KAC significantly expanded the scope of aquaculture research at VIMS by providing a facility that was specifically designed to hold both native and non-native species in quarantine. The specialized systems at this site presented new research opportunities while protecting the Chesapeake Bay and its living resources from unintentional introduction of disease, parasites, and non-native species. In 2009, non-native oyster research ended with a federal decision to disallow their introduction and to refocus research efforts on the bay’s native species.

Since then, KAC has been redesigned to continually expand its function as an oyster hatchery and broodstock staging center. Today, it is home to ABC’s polyploid breeding work and research, as well as the primary broodstock holding facility for both hatcheries during their annual spawning season. The work spaces in this building are arranged into the distinct areas found in any standard bivalve hatchery.

Algal Culture

KAC’s algae lab operates very similarly to that in the Gloucester Point oyster hatchery. Here, three strains of unicellular algae are cultured to feed larvae, recently set oyster seed (or spat), and broodstock, the parent animals used for spawning. Algae cultures are raised using batch procedures, so as they continue to grow and increase in density, they are progressively transferred from small flasks to 10-liter carboys to 200-liter kalwall tubes. By providing all of the components needed for photosynthesis, this lab creates the perfect conditions for algal cultures to grow continuously year-round. The algal ration for each tank in the hatchery is calculated on a daily basis, and the total volume and proportion of each algal species that they receive is adjusted as the oysters grow and their nutritional needs change.   

Broodstock Holding

KAC is equipped with several large raceway tanks that are used as ABC’s primary broodstock holding space. These are filled with raw, unfiltered river water that can be lightly heated or chilled depending on the time of year and specific holding needs. Ripe animals can easily be cooled and temporarily held until the hatcheries are ready to spawn. The heating capabilities in this system have also been useful for winter research work with young oysters.

Hatchery Floor

A portion of the main floorspace at KAC is set aside for spawning and larval culture operations. This area contains a workbench and about forty small larval tanks of varying sizes. The arrangement here differs from commercial hatcheries because of the size and number of larval tanks. In commercial hatcheries, a small number of extremely large tanks typically fill the hatchery floor. ABC’s standard operating procedure is, however, the production of a large quantity of smaller, genetically distinct groups. This requires exceptional diligence from hatchery personnel, large amounts of recordkeeping and labeling, and complete separation of dozens of family and line groups. At KAC, additional diligence must be observed to keep cultures of different ploidies separate from one another and to avoid contamination. From each tank, KAC staff can usually harvest 20,000-200,000 mature triploid or tetraploid larvae, which develop into a sufficient quantity of seed (or spat) for field trials and for holding as parents for the next generation.

Larval Setting

Oyster larvae pass through their planktonic stage in two to three weeks and are harvested when they become ready to ‘set,’ or metamorphose to a sedentary form. Larvae are encouraged to set on ground oyster shell in shallow downweller screens. Newly set seed oysters continue growing at KAC for ten to fourteen more days before they’re moved to the nursery system located at Gloucester Point. There, polyploid seed are kept in upwelling screens until they grow large enough to be deployed on ABC’s field sites.

 {{youtube:large|EU2kPlpC88k,Take a virtual tour with field specialist Shelley Katsuki.}}