Connecticut Sea Grant’s Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report is now available. With photos, graphics, and summaries of many projects and initiatives, it’s a great way to get a quick overview of Connecticut Sea Grant‘s programs. It is available here.
Story and photos by Judy Benson
Connecticut shellfish farmers who endured severe sales losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic are being offered the chance to earn income by working on a unique project to rehabilitate the state’s natural shellfish beds.
The project, developed by Connecticut Sea Grant and the Connecticut Department of Agriculture, will employ shellfish farmers with vessels normally used to harvest oysters to instead raise and relocate oyster shell buried in silt and other materials off the bottom of the beds. The exposed oyster shell would then provide the preferred habitat for oyster larvae. The shellfish farmers would be compensated for a portion of their hours worked.
The project is the second phase of a three-part initiative to support shellfish farmers hurt by sales losses to restaurants and other key customers. At the same time farmers are being assisted, the natural shellfish beds that are the main source of oyster seed for Connecticut’s commercial and recreational beds will be restored to greater productivity. The natural beds span about 7,000 acres offshore in areas mainly from West Haven to Greenwich.
“We are pleased to have been able to secure new funds to support the aquaculture industry, using innovative avenues to provide some short-term cash flow for work that will enhance the productivity of natural beds in the future, with associated economic and ecological benefits,” said Sylvan De Guise, director of Connecticut Sea Grant.
Connecticut Sea Grant and the state Department of Agriculture collaboratively received $74,999 in federal funds from the National Sea Grant Office to fund the project, which is being supplemented with $50,474 worth of in-kind services. During the first phase of the project that began on May 6, shellfish farmers have been working on different areas of the natural beds than are being targeted in the second phase.
A third phase of the project, which would begin pending approval of additional federal funding, would compensate farmers for shellfish that have grown too large for consumer markets. Those shellfish would then be planted on closed portions of state and town shellfish beds across the state to repopulate those areas.
“Over the past four weeks, more than one dozen shellfish companies have actively rehabilitated the state’s public shellfish beds during phase one of this project plan,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “The implementation of phase two within the next week will enable continuation of this critical work in shallower areas and provide producers with compensation through our collaboration with Connecticut Sea Grant.
“These efforts are crucial to ensuring the future sustainability of the state’s shellfish industry through enhanced management of Connecticut’s public seed beds and facilitating availability of oyster seed to the entire industry,” Hurlburt said.
The Department of Agriculture will continue to document the enhancement achieved through the rehabilitation efforts using a combination of vessel monitoring system data, landings reporting and via the deployment of an underwater video camera. The camera footage would document bottom conditions of those areas that have been worked versus baseline conditions in areas of the beds that remain untouched. Staff intend to document long-term recovery of beds by assessing conditions and oyster recruitment levels on project areas in subsequent seasons. The information will be used to develop best management practices for the natural oyster seed beds to achieve maximum production of oyster seed there in the future.
Shellfish companies interested in participating in the program should submit their request via email to David Carey, director of the Department of Agriculture Bureau of Aquaculture, at: David.Carey@ct.gov.
SUPPORTING CONNECTICUT’S SHELLFISH INDUSTRY DURING COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Phased Response to Rehabilitate Natural Beds
(HARTFORD, CT) – The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is collaborating with state and federal partners on the development of a phased response to support shellfish farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The innovative program will enable shellfish farmers to contribute to the rehabilitation of the state’s natural shellfish beds, and to receive compensation for their work, which will occur in two distinct phases. This work highlights the importance of the partnership between the Department and Connecticut Sea Grant to provide assistance to the industry during a critical time.
“Ongoing close relationships and coordination between the Department of Agriculture, Connecticut Sea Grant, and industry members allowed for a quick assessment of needs and pooling of capacity and resources for what in my opinion represents a response that is both quick and thoughtful, for the short and medium term”, said Sylvain De Guise, director of Connecticut Sea Grant. “From discussions with colleagues in the region, Connecticut is ahead of neighboring states in responding to the needs of the shellfish aquaculture sector”, he added.
Six areas of focus have been identified by the department, totaling approximately 7,000 acres. The areas are located from West Haven to Greenwich in order maximize participation by shellfish companies. Specifically, the natural bed areas are Flatneck Point Greenwich, Fish Island Natural Bed Darien/Norwalk, Fairfield Natural Bed, Bridgeport/Stratford Natural Bed, Offshore Housatonic River and West Haven Shoal Natural Bed. All of these beds are in need of rehabilitation in order to return them to productive seed oyster producing assets.
“As Commissioner, I have granted access to Connecticut’s public shellfish beds for the specific purpose of the work proposed in this project,” said Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “This addresses the emerging economic impacts resulting from COVID-19, while simultaneously addressing one of the key recommendations identified in the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative Vision Plan to rehabilitate the state’s public shellfish beds.”
Phase One, the rehabilitation of designated portions of natural beds using hydraulic clam dredges, is targeted to begin May 6, 2020 with more than one dozen participants registered and more anticipated.
Phase Two is slated to start June 1, 2020 utilizing federal funding through a project submitted by the Department and Connecticut Sea Grant. This phase will allow shellfish farmers to rehabilitate shallower portions of the natural bed. Upon approval of funding, this phase of the program will allow participating companies to be compensated for a portion of their hours worked.
The Department will document enhancement achieved through the rehabilitation efforts using a combination of the VMS data, landings reporting, and via the deployment of an underwater video camera to document bottom conditions of those areas that have been worked versus baseline conditions in areas of the beds that have not been worked. Staff intend to document long-term recovery of beds by assessing conditions and oyster recruitment levels on project areas in subsequent seasons. The information will be used to develop best management practices for the management of natural oyster seed beds to achieve maximum production of oyster seed in these beds in the future.
By rehabilitating the state’s public shellfish beds, the Department hopes to facilitate the availability of oyster seed to the entire industry, ensuring the future sustainability of the state’s shellfish industry.
Shellfish companies interested in participating in the program should submit their request via email to David.Carey@ct.gov.
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.
The Fall-Winter 2019-20 issue of Wrack Lines, a publication of Connecticut Sea Grant is now posted at:
https://seagrant.uconn.edu/?p=5770. In this issue we’re re-thinking relationships with the places we love.
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.
Article and photo by Judy Benson
By: Anoushka Concepcion, Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension
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.
Are you a recreational shellfish harvester? Check out the 2016 guide from Connecticut Sea Grant.
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.