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HKU Hatchery to Supply Quality Oysters to Farmers

We will bring growers here for knowledge exchange and expect them to go back and set up their own hatchery at an industry level.

Dr. Thiyagarajan Vengatesen

Hong Kong’s 700-year-old oyster industry has faced many challenges, from red tides, heavy metal pollution and acidification to outdated growing methods, lack of new, young farmers and an irregular supply of poor-quality seeds.

And with the shallow waters of Deep Bay in the Northwestern New Territories now overcrowded with as many as 10,000 oyster rafts anchored on the SAR side of the marine border, this traditional way of life is at a tipping point.

But Dr. Thiyagarajan Vengatesen, Associate Professor in the School of Biological Sciences and The Swire Institute of Marine Science, from The University of Hong Kong (HKU), believes that a stable supply of disease-resilient spats will ensure the industry’s future.

“Because the quality of the seed is very important for the industry to survive,” Dr Thiyagarajan said. “They need a seed that is resilient to disease, and that can grow faster.”

At the heart of Dr. Vengatesen’s plan is a hatchery inside the university’s main campus that can produce six million seeds annually from a sub-strain of the Hong Kong Oyster (Crassostrea hongkonggensis) that he has named the HKU strain.

“We had a chat with the growers, the industry and other stakeholders, and also government representatives,” he said. “We ended up setting up a hatchery here at HKU to produce high quality seeds for the growers.”

Oyster seed

As part of his team’s research, they identified a quick-growing “highly disease-resistant” variant in southern China which has been successfully cultured and bred in the hatchery. The first batch of spats was delivered to a test raft in Deep Bay in December which Dr. Vengatesen hopes will lead to a regular supply of baby oysters to the industry.

Oyster farmer Mr. Chan Kwok Leung, who is liaising with Dr. Vengatesen and the growers as well as working as a researcher on the HKU team, believes the supply of disease-resilient spats from the hatchery could be the lifeline they need to survive.

“If HKU can help us change the way the seeds grow well,” Mr. Chan said, “then it can save the industry.” 

This view is supported by Mr. Chow Wing-kuen, a Senior Fisheries Officer (Aquaculture Fisheries) of The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, HKSAR Government.

“The industry is facing many challenges right now,” Mr. Chow said. “But with the support of HKU to develop a local hatchery, I think that there are many positives to further develop the aquaculture industry in Hong Kong.”  

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