By Mike Nixon Tri-Parish Times
A mountain of oyster shells stands inside the gate at Wilson’s Oyster Co. in Houma. Like other processors of the mollusk, once the vitamin and protein-rich meat, documented as low in cholesterol and used in the treatment of some cancers, is extracted for consumption they look for other uses of the leftover covering.
In this case, crew member Sterling Liner explained that the apparent multiple dump truck loads by-product from Wilson’s processing is sold to various companies for as many uses. “Some guy from Missouri or someplace is gonna’ take all this and make chicken feed from it,” Liner said. “It helps make the egg shells stronger.”
Making use of oyster shells after the contents have been processed or eaten raw is nothing new. For centuries coastal inhabitants made the stony coverings into sharp tools. Oyster shells have been used to pave roads. They are even beneficial to replenish reefs for fishing habitats.
Artists often use oyster shells as their canvass, and craft makers find creative ways to bring aesthetic appreciation to the raw material.
Gardeners know that powdered oyster shells can control slugs, benefit roses and boost production of other plants.
Scientists have even determined that calcium from oyster shells makes a positive dietary supplement for both humans and livestock.
Louisiana may now profit from a new and first time application for shells of the Crassostrea virginica oyster, one of dozens of mollusk varieties, which has replaced the agate as the new state gemstone and the state’s first ever official mineral.
Gemologist Anne Dale of Mandeville has cut the specific species of oyster shell, common off the shore of Louisiana, as cabochon gem and used it in making jewelry for the first time ever.
“It was last year after the oil spill,” Dale said of when the idea hit her. “I went and bought a lot of seafood, oysters especially. I was shucking them in the backyard and the sun hit the shell. I kept thinking, ‘I don’t know why no one has ever cut a gemstone from this shell.’ So I did it. It was an inspirational moment. I thought, ‘It is so pretty.’”
Dale developed a process that she declined to reveal, as the patent is pending, and gained immediate notoriety as the first person ever to successfully achieve a cabochon cut, a domed top with a flat bottom, from a mollusk shell.
With her contacts in the jewelry business, cutting the Crassostrea virginica oyster shell into a true gem gained global attention and a sampling of the finished gem was entered into permanent display among the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History’s U.S. National Gem Collection on May 23.
Louisiana state Rep. Scott Simon (R-Abita Springs) picked up on what Dale had done and sponsored HB-246 during the past legislative session to designate this specific oyster shell as the state’s new official mineral and gem. Gov. Bobby Jindal signed HB-246 into law on June 27 with an effective date of Aug. 15.
“For one thing it is going to at least bring conversation to the plight of the seafood industry,” Simon said. “It is going to be promoted with the Louisiana bi-centennial in 2012. The main thing about this is that it is getting worldwide recognition as a new gemstone. People come down and enjoy our seafood and have a good time, but go home and all they have is memories. But in this way they can bring a little bit of that seafood back home with them. It will always generate conversation and interest. It will also bring greater awareness to the Louisiana seafood industry.”
“The beauty of these shell linings were appreciated by a very discerning connoisseur of oysters,” Scottish Gemological Association President Alan Hodgkinson said of Dale’s creation in a printed statement. “Here is a natural resource that in addition to offering raw material for a new product application can do good in creating jobs and contributing to the local economy. … After all the coastal inhabitants of Louisiana have been through these last years, what a heaven-sent gift for one and all.”
The idea behind designating the cabochon cut from the Crassostrea virginica mollusk as the official gem is one intended to boost tourism and enhance the already versatile oyster market.
“It’s great. It really is,” said Houma-based Motivatit Seafood Inc. CEO Mike Voisin. “I think what having this oyster shell recognized for this gemological value will do is it will help others recognize the intrinsic value of the oyster and its shell.”
“There are a lot of different elements involved,” Dale said. “Although it is bountiful in Louisiana, not every shell will produce a cabochon cut. A good shell has a lot of good things. It does take time to cut.”
Dale said on average, thus far, going from raw product to a finished gem is a full day process. The gem can then be placed into settings for various adornments. Retail prices for this gem are in a mid-level range from $250 to $2,000 per completed piece of jewelry.
Not every shell or rock can be classified as a gem. There is no universally accepted grading system for gems according to the U.S. Geological Survey. However, within the jewelry industry, Dale said, there are certain things that constitute a gem. “It has to possess rarity, durability, beauty and symmetrical shape,” she said.
A gem is generally defined as a piece of mineral that is cut and polished to form a usable piece of jewelry or adornment. “All gems are minerals,” Dale said. “The value includes the time and labor cutting it, and the aragonite in it.”
“I don’t know what all she does to it,” Voisin said. “[But] I think it will mean a very positive public relations piece for the seafood and oyster community. Just making the gem will help the economy and make people think of Louisiana. I think there are many positive sides to it.”
While some in the oyster industry and jewelry business were surprised about the shell development, most questioned confirmed that the gemological use only adds to the versatility of a natural resource.
The overall profitability of designating the Crassostrea virginica oyster shell as the state mineral and its cabochon cut as state gem might still be unknown. The anticipation is that the benefits won’t be just chicken feed.
SOURCE Tri-Parish Times