Sales revenue for Connecticut aquaculture producers fell an average of 93 percent in February and March compared to the same period in 2019, and 70 percent of the workforce employed in shellfish, seaweed and finfish farming operations have been laid off due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are some of the findings of a preliminary summary of a survey of Connecticut’s aquaculture producers. It was conducted by Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn Extension and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture to assess impacts of the pandemic on the industry and inform assistance plans. Sea Grant, the Department of Agriculture and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are using the list of specific actions recommended by the respondents to design the most effective means of providing short- and long-term assistance, including grants and loans.
If you’re an average Connecticut resident, you probably didn’t eat seafood more than once in the last week.
But you might, if you knew more about how to prepare different types of fish, shellfish and seaweed, and where to buy local seafood. You’d also be inclined to have seafood more often if you knew more about its safety.
Those are some of the key findings of the Connecticut Seafood Survey, a 2½-year project to better understand current eating habits and how best to make of all types of seafood – but especially the shellfish, seaweed and fish from local waters – a more frequent part of state residents’ diets. Half the residents surveyed said they eat seafood just once a week – which is out of sync with the Food & Drug Administration’s recommendations. The FDA says adults should eat two or more servings per week to get all the nutritional benefits their bodies need.
Connecticut has an extensive agricultural industry that extends far beyond land. Hidden under its coast, lies more than 70,000 acres where one of the best protein sources is produced – shellfish (clams, oysters, mussels, and scallops). The shellfish aquaculture industry is over 150 years old and expanding in numbers of producers, and additional products. But shellfish are not the only crops that grow underwater. Seaweed, or sea vegetables, is a highly valued commodity at $8-10 billion in the global market. Seaweeds are consumed for their nutritional benefits and are a staple in Asian diets. Their components are in a wide range of products including fertilizers, animal feeds, nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and biofuels. Seaweeds also provide ecosystem services; they can be used to clean up waterways by extracting excess nutrients from urban runoff.
Although the majority of production occurs in Asia, interest in seaweed production is increasing in the United States. For many years, seaweed has been harvested from the wild. However, the cultivation (or aquaculture) of domestic seaweed is increasing. Current producers of seaweed include shellfish producers and displaced lobstermen looking to diversify products and income. There is also an interest from municipalities who are looking at seaweed for ecosystem services. Currently in Connecticut, there are two types of seaweed cultivated and approved for food: the sugar kelp, Saccharina latissima and Gracilaria tikvahiae. The kelp grows in the winter season while the Gracilaria grows in the summer. There are four commercial farms growing sugar kelp. These farms are small-scale and mostly grow shellfish.
Connecticut Sea Grant has been involved in seaweed aquaculture for almost 30 years, funding extensive foundational and applied research of Dr. Charles Yarish in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. More recently, Sea Grant and UConn Extension have been helping transfer aspects of the research to industry and market, along with Yarish and other collaborators. Sea Grant has been addressing several bottlenecks hindering further expansion of this new industry. The major bottleneck is lack of federal guidelines on the public health aspect of domestic seaweed production and processing. Since the majority of seaweed domestically produced is from wild-harvest, it has been unregulated. There are guidelines ensuring seafood, meat, dairy, and other agricultural commodities are safe for human consumption. However, we don’t have similar guidelines for cultivated seaweed. This presents a problem for state regulatory agencies that are trying to ensure the seaweed grown in Connecticut is safe. Sea Grant and UConn Extension partnered with the Connecticut Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Aquaculture to develop guidelines that allow locally produced seaweed to be grown and sold in the state. This guide contains handling, storage, and processing guidelines for both species of seaweed grown in Connecticut.
Seaweed can grow quickly and in large volumes, requiring harvesting be done all at once. Since seaweed has a short shelf life – it starts to degrade within hours, it must be used right away or processed into a form that will last. Local chefs desire raw kelp since it is fresh and unprocessed, but it has a very short shelf life. Kelp has also been processed into noodles and sold to a limited number of restaurants and retailers in the region. In 2013, Sea Grant assisted the Bureau of Aquaculture in approving the first commercial seaweed grower to sell fresh kelp and kelp noodles as food. This involved providing development funds testing the safety of both forms of kelp and seafood safety knowledge to determine appropriate handling, storage, and processing guidelines. The seaweed grower has now expanded to a large-scale commercial kelp processing facility in New Haven, Sea Greens Farms; that can accommodate seaweed produced by other growers in the region. Although guidelines have been developed for raw and kelp noodles, they have not been developed for dehydrated or dried seaweed. Sea Grant is working with a local food manufacturer to conduct drying experiments to determine if there are any potential hazards associated with dehydrating seaweed. Although experiments are ongoing, preliminary results indicate that as long as the seaweed is stored and handled properly, it should be safe to eat.
Additional experiments are being conducted to determine if the summer seaweed, Gracilaria, is suitable for human consumption when cultivated in Connecticut’s coastal waterways. Gracilaria can remove heavy metals and other chemicals from the water, making it a great candidate for nutrient bioextraction to clean up waterways. However, there is no data showing that it is safe for human consumption. Currently, only Gracilaria cultivated in indoor tanks can be sold as food, since growing conditions can be controlled ensuring product safety. Experiments analyzing Gracilaria grown in Connecticut waters are underway to determine its feasibility as a food product. Additional barriers under investigation include expanding markets for local product and the successful transition of kelp seed-string production from research labs to commercial-scale. Although the production of seed-string has begun to shift into the hands of commercial seaweed operations, it is not fully independent and at the same level as the shellfish aquaculture industry. An extensive seafood marketing survey this summer will assess awareness and consumption of Connecticut seafood and seaweed among residents.
Although the potential for seaweed aquaculture in Connecticut is huge, there are constraints to rapid expansion. The domestic seaweed aquaculture industry is still in its infancy and it is yet to be determined if it will become more than a niche commodity. Overcoming these constraints will take time, as with any new product. However, this new crop may contribute to sustaining and creating new jobs as well as providing additional ecosystem services for Connecticut’s coastline.
Shellfish aquaculture is a large and growing part of Connecticut’s agriculture sector, but site selection is a major challenge. Farmers cultivate oysters, clams and scallops in designated areas of Long Island Sound. Those sites are considered public property and are leased from the state. Farmers need to identify growing areas that are biologically productive for their crop while also considering the potential use conflicts or environmental interactions with their activity on those sites.
To help improve site selection for aquaculture, the Aquaculture Mapping Atlas was developed by Assistant Extension Educator Cary Chadwick, in collaboration with Extension Educator Tessa Getchis and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Aquaculture.
The latest version of this interactive map viewer includes new data layers and functions. The viewer has updated commercial and recreational harvest areas, natural beds, and shellfish classification areas as well as a plethora of navigation, environmental condition, and natural resource data. Users can overlay map layers, draw new lease areas, and print professional-looking maps.
Tessa Getchis, Connecticut Sea Grant/UConn Extension aquaculture educator at the University of Connecticut, has been awarded a grant totaling $315,240 to enhance the growth of Connecticut aquaculture and shellfisheries. The project, titled “Listening, Learning and Leading to Support Shellfish Aquaculture Growth in Connecticut and the Nation” is funded by the NOAA National Sea Grant College Program’s Aquaculture Technology Transfer Initiative.
The effort will allow Connecticut Sea Grant, UConn Extension staff and key partners including the Connecticut Bureau of Aquaculture and the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service Milford Laboratory to carry out activities meant to enhance public awareness of Connecticut’s shellfish resources. The work will support the ongoing Connecticut Shellfish Initiative. The Initiative, a multi-year effort, brings together local interests, including commercial and recreational shellfishermen, municipal shellfish commissioners, academics, NGOs and state and federal resource managers to work together to grow the shellfish industry, increase recreational shellfishing opportunities and enhance natural shellfish populations in Connecticut.
Among the grant activities to be implemented is a public perception survey to help inform a new outreach and education campaign on Connecticut shellfish resources. Community interaction on shellfish topics will also be enhanced by events such as Ag Day at the Capitol, seminars, booths at shellfish festivals and clam digs and use of social media. Another key aspect of the effort will be an economic assessment of Connecticut’s shellfish aquaculture industry and a report on the results.
Finally, the shellfish aquaculture team will collaborate with other states and regions that are developing shellfish initiatives and promote the NOAA National Shellfish Initiative. The goal of the national initiative is to increase populations of bivalve shellfish in our nation’s coastal waters—including oysters, clams, abalone, and mussels—through both sustainable commercial production and restoration activities.
The new and improved website was built based on feedback from shellfish interest groups like yours. The latest version of this interactive map viewer includes new data layers and functions. The viewer includes updated commercial and recreational harvest areas, natural beds, and shellfish classification areas as well as a plethora of navigation, environmental condition, and natural resource data. The viewer allows users to overlay map layers, draw new lease areas, and print professional-looking maps.
New to the Mapping Atlas? Take a look at the user guide or listen in to our upcoming webinar “Using the Aquaculture Mapping Atlas for Fun and Profit” to be held on Tuesday, April 21, 2015 from 2 PM to 3 PM. Check out the webinar description below and be sure to contact us with questions or comments. For your convenience, the webinar will also be recorded and archived on the CLEAR website.
Shellfish aquaculture is a large and growing part of Connecticut’s agriculture sector, but site selection is a major challenge. Farmers cultivate oysters, clams and scallops in designated areas of Long Island Sound. Those sites are considered public property and are leased from the state. Because these underwater farms are not located on private property, new or expanding activities are faced with a significant amount of scrutiny. Farmers need to identify growing areas that are biologically productive for their crop while also considering the potential use conflicts or environmental interactions with their activity on those sites. To help improve site selection for aquaculture, the Aquaculture Mapping Atlas was developed. This webinar will introduce the new function and capabilities of Version 4.
We encourage your feedback so that we can improve the aquaculture and shellfisheries resources we provide. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Technical questions regarding the Atlas should be directed to email@example.com. Data questions should be directed to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Connecticut Aquaculture Mapping Atlas was developed by the University of Connecticut Center for Land Use Education and Research, in collaboration with Connecticut Sea Grant and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, Bureau of Aquaculture.
Commercial shellfish farmers who use the ocean to grow their crops off the nation’s coastline now have the same kind of protection against crop losses as do people who farm on land, due to a recent change in federal policy.
The new language providing coverage was added to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) as part of a recent Farm Bill and is a big deal for Connecticut’s $30 million aquaculture industry.
“We were thrilled to learn that after years of discussion with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), crops that have traditionally not been eligible for federal crop insurance have now been granted coverage under the NAP program,” said Tessa Getchis, a UConn aquaculture extension educator, who was instrumental in the policy change. “That’s a huge step forward for the aquaculture industry now that the program will cover losses due to named tropical storms and hurricanes.”
The program provides financial assistance to producers of what are normally considered non-insurable crops to protect against natural disasters resulting in crop losses or the prevention of crop planting. Before the new language, the law stated that commercial shellfish crops could be insured only if they were grown in containers or bags, but that’s not how it’s done in Long Island Sound.
New Guide to Help Fish, Shellfish and Seaweed Growers Manage Risks
GROTON CT—A new 285-page illustrated manual, the Northeastern U.S. Aquaculture Management Guide, has just been published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Northeastern Regional Aquaculture Center. Edited by Tessa L. Getchis, Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension aquaculture specialist, the manual is a wealth of useful information on potential hazards for those who grow fish, shellfish, and seaweed. Twenty-five aquaculture extension professionals and many researchers, aquatic animal health professionals and farmers contributed to the information presented in this volume.
Every year, the aquaculture industry experiences economic losses due to diseases, pests, adverse weather, or operational mishaps. This manual identifies many specific risks to help seafood growers identify, manage and correct production-related problems. The guide also includes monitoring and record-keeping protocols, and a list of aquaculture extension professional contacts who can help when there is a problem.
The publication was made possible by funding from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Northeastern Regional Aquaculture Center (NRAC) to the Northeast Aquaculture Extension Network.