The Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas is cultured at 8 commercial farms in South Africa. Worldwide, environmental-specific intensive selection on the species optimizes commercially beneficial traits, but its performance has not been studied in South Africa. From May 2010 to March 2011, we compared 2-mo measurements of growth rate, condition, and survival of 3 cohorts of different origin in longline culture at 3 different South African environments: 2 sea-based farms located in Saldanha Bay (Western Cape) and Algoa Bay (Eastern Cape) and a land-based farm at Kleinzee (Northern Cape). Overall, Saldanha Bay was cooler (mean sea surface temperature of 16.0°C; CV, 16.2%) than the other 2 localities, which did not differ significantly from one another (Kleinzee: 18.6°C; CV, 20.4%; Algoa Bay: 17.8°C; CV, 8.9%). The high variability at Kleinzee reflected stronger summer warming than at the other 2 farms. Saldanha Bay had higher phytoplankton biomass (mean, 14.3 mg chlorophyll a/m3; CV, 54.2%; May 2010 to March 2011) than did Algoa Bay (mean, 5.3 mg chlorophyll a/m3; CV, 81.0%; September 2010 to March 2011). The 3 cohorts showed similar trends in growth and condition. Growth rates, expressed as live or dry mass gains, were 2–10 times those reported elsewhere in the world, and dry weight condition indices were also high. High live mass growth rates in Algoa Bay, despite its relatively low phytoplankton biomass, seem to reflect a similar phenomenon to that reported in other relatively phytoplankton-poor grow-out environments, such as the Mediterranean Thau Lagoon in France. Dry meat mass gain and condition were highest for oysters in Saldanha Bay, with high food availability offsetting the thermal advantages of the warmer Algoa Bay site. Oysters in the bottom layers of the cages grew significantly faster than those in the top layers, particularly in Saldanha Bay, possibly reflecting fine-scale vertical differences in phytoplankton biomass. Saldanha Bay is the best of the 3 locations to produce market-ready oysters. Algoa Bay yields faster growth but leaner oysters and is a good nursery location, as is Kleinzee, which yields overall slow growth but good shell quality in winter and early spring.
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