What do you get when you cross a healthy oyster with a diseased oyster? Super Oyster! Well that’s in theory anyway and if UINR has any say in the matter, it might not be long before the native oyster fishery in Crane Cove returns.

The problem is MSX. No that’s not the latest instant messaging software, it’s a pesky parasite (Haplosporidium nelsoni) that has found its way into oyster beds in the Bras d’Or, presumably from the ballast of a ship. First discovered here in 2002, MSX poses no threat to humans, but is devastating to oyster flesh. When the parasite strikes it multiplies and spreads rapidly often resulting in the oyster’s death by the end of summer. The lucky oysters that survive are weakened and usually die the next spring. While not spread from oyster to oyster, it is believed that MSX uses an as of yet unknown host to spread the infection.

Aquaculture biologist Allison McIsaac to the rescue! Take an MSX oyster and spawn it with a healthy oyster…not so fast…the MSX oyster is so weak it can’t spawn naturally. Here’s where Allison comes in. She manually scrapes spawn and sperm and combines it under laboratory conditions. Allison’s little babies are settled in their tanks, eating algae and growing. It could take up to 10 years to develop these super oysters, but in an industry worth over one million dollars to Eskasoni First nation, it’s not long to wait.

UINR has partnered with Eskasoni Fish and Wildlife Commission, Fisheries and Oceans and the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture and Fisheries to make this important study possible. If this disaster happened in the Bras d’Or it could happen anywhere. The work on this project will benefit other communities where an outbreak is not just possible, it’s likely. Continued research is needed to determine the actual cause and to develop a solution.

From UINR Marten, Issue 1, Vol. 1, Fall 2005