March 26 2023

Technology and Automation

Advanced technology and automation can enhance the consistent production of high-quality larvae and algae.

This article is from Hatchery Feed & Management Vol 11 Issue 1 2023

Author: Steven Weschler, Ferry Cove Shellfish

Ferry Cove Oyster Hatchery opened in 2022 on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and had an immediate impact on the region’s aquaculture community. The hatchery’s early success in cost-efficient oyster rearing and algae production was credited to several factors: state-of-the art equipment, design decisions and staff expertise. Bivalve hatcheries are challenged by constantly changing environmental factors – such as temperature, pH and salinity – that can’t be addressed with traditional
hatchery practices and can hinder production and revenue. Hatcheries operate with lower profit margins than other aquaculture businesses and must produce extremely high volumes of larvae or higher-margin products like oyster seed to be profitable. Regardless of the approach, managing overhead costs is key to longterm financial viability.

Hatchery technology and automation
Ferry Cove has seven algae photobioreactors to meet its algae requirements. Each bioreactor produces a single species of algae.

Ferry Cove founders understood those challenges before breaking ground at the 70-acre campus. They addressed these issues – as well as distribution and marketing needs – in the initial design and construction decisions. The hatchery, on the shoreline of the Chesapeake Bay, was designed to produce several billion Eastern oyster (C. virginica) eyed larvae a year. Designers worked with biologists and engineers experienced with hatcheries and aquariums who asked “how can we build this to address our needs and also advance hatchery science and processes?” This is in keeping with the mission of Ferry Cove, to work with scientists, watermen, business owners and policymakers to address the current and future needs of
the aquaculture industry.

Technology and automation systems

The facade of this hatchery is reminiscent of the oyster houses that once dotted the bay. Inside the building, advanced

Ferry Cove Oyster Hatchery
An open floor plan provides ample natural light in the main
production area.

technology and automation systems were incorporated to minimize labor costs, conserve energy use and maximize production. The equipment controls water quality, manages feeding systems and automatically activates backup systems when needed.

To address potential water quality challenges, the facility incorporated a brine dosing system and a pH dosing system that maintain production in times of low salinity and pH levels. In addition, the seawater reuse system allows Ferry Cove to recover seawater that has been salted or heated. The water is processed through a filtration system for reuse, thereby reducing the need in incurring the additional cost of adding salt or heating in colder weather. In addition, an artificial seawater system serves as a backup system when bay water is unsuitable and would cause larval crashes.

Six full-time hatchery and facility staff operate the facility, on-site or remotely using automated control and monitoring systems. These systems alert staff to issues such as faulty pump operations, low tank levels and improper water quality. Notifications are sent if an aquatic system is not functioning within the range in which it was programmed. Most of these systems have backup processes. For example, if a seawater pump or air pump fails for any reason, a second pump automatically activates, without a flip of a switch or a click of a button.

Microalgae Production

As with any shellfish facility, high volumes of dense microalgae are required to feed bivalve broodstock, larvae and seed. At some hatcheries, live-feed algae production becomes a bottleneck that forces hatchery managers to make tough husbandry decisions.

The development of the Industrial Plankton photobioreactors, which include automation and advanced features, solves the problem of underproducing microalgae. Ferry Cove has seven of these compact photobioreactors culturing microalgae. These photobioreactors have proven reliable, efficient and capable of producing microalgae in a high-production (e.g., produce 35 trillion cells iso equivalence per day) and algae-demanding environment. Coupled with automated algae delivery systems, the photobioreactors are efficient and simple to use. This allows Ferry Cove – and other hatcheries that install this system – to maximize biomass output and increase the longevity of cultures with minimal overhead. This effort is enhanced because Ferry Cove’s reactors can be monitored and controlled remotely, allowing staff to examine past logged data to make programming decisions. Sharing data-driving results contribute to Ferry Cove’s educational commitment.

The flexibility of the hatchery design allows for experimentation. And it enables oysters to be produced most of the year, far beyond the natural spawning cycle in warm summer months. By increasing the production of oyster larvae and seeds, Ferry Cove expects to dramatically increase the number of farm-raised oysters grown in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Ferry Cove completed its first successful production season and is gearing up for its second. The team has been pleased with how the facility’s systems have operated, especially the photobioreactors. While nothing is certain, Ferry Cove’s staff members feel confident that the facility is prepared to continue to produce in the constantly changing environmental conditions of the Chesapeake Bay.

These initial steps are in line with Ferry Cove’s mission to demonstrate measures other aquaculture businesses can employ to control costs and improve margins. This positions Ferry Cove to become an international leader in hatchery technology.
More information:
Steven Weschler
Hatchery Manager
Ferry Cove Shellfish
Ferry Cove Shellfish,