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Focal Points

Focal Points
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Shellfish Aquaculture in Massachusetts...continued
September 2000

Current Problems and Possible Solutions

Currently, there are three major issues confronting the shellfish aquaculture industry
in Massachusetts: lack of knowledge and understanding of the industry by the general public, multiple use conflicts in the coastal zone, and disease. A 1999 industry survey conducted by the Massachusetts Department of Food and Agriculture (MDFA) found that many aquatic farmers identified an overall lack of understanding of their industry by the general public as their primary concern. As a result, public education has been identified as a high priority area for future efforts designed to
support the industry by the state aquaculture coordinator and the MDFA. Education covers a range of programs, from demonstration projects and technological workshops for the industry to public relations and introductory education for the general public. The aquaculture industry in Massachusetts, through the state’s industry survey process, believes that such education efforts offer the greatest potential for changes in the public’s attitude toward the development of an aquaculture industry in the Commonwealth, all at a relatively low cost.

Conflicts between users of the coastal zone are on the rise as the industry grows.
Users range from wild shellfish harvesters, who are concerned with losing fishing
bottom by privatization of the resource areas, to upland owners, who are concerned that farming activity on the flats will have a negative impact on the aesthetic value of the coast.

The surf clam is a new candidate for shellfish aquaculture. A rigid cage (top photo) and a mesh bag (bottom photo) are two containment options for the commercial grow-out stage. Photos by Dale Leavitt.

The potential for disease is another chief concern throughout the industy. The oyster industry must contend with a suite of diseases specific to oysters -- primarily dermo and MSX -- while quahog growers are faced with a relatively new disease known as QPX, for quahog parasite unknown. There is growing support within the industry and throughout the Commonwealth for developing an organized shellfish health monitoring program and for increasing disease research by local scientists to
assist the industry in dealing with this issue in the future. Nationally and at the local
level, Sea Grant has made significant efforts in providing research funding for shellfish disease research and offering assistance to the industry with development of disease management programs.

In order to address all of the concerns with respect to aquaculture in Massachusetts,
the industry, in collaboration with the SouthEastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (SEMAC), a state funded center resulting from a collaboration between WHOI Sea Grant, Barnstable County/Cape Cod Cooperative Extension, and the MA Department of Food and Agriculture, has embarked on the development of best
management practices, or BMPs. BMPs can be defined as a voluntary set of operating procedures that promote the development of an industry using technologies that have a low impact on the natural resources, yet support good production. Issues to be addressed by the BMPs have been identified through a public discussion process and recommendations are being developed by an industry working group. It is hoped that the product of these discussions, a BMPs manual, will be accepted by a wide array of groups, including the shellfish farming
industry, the regulatory agencies controlling shellfish farming, and the non-governmental agencies that serve as watchdogs for the environment and the rights of property owners.

Industry Concerns

As with any new and expanding industry, the Massachusetts shellfish farming
industry will be faced with growing pains. Among them:

• There will be an increasing level of space use conflicts between shellfish farmers
and other users of the coastal zone. What is currently happening in Massachusetts
will continue to escalate as the coastal zone becomes more populated and more heavily used for recreational purposes. One possible solution is for commercial
aquaculture to move onshore or off-shore in order to move away from multiple use
areas. A second possible solution is to legislate aquaculture areas within the coastal zone. Such areas would facilitate the permitting process and minimize
conflicts between the industry and other potential users of the area.

• The ability for existing hatcheries to supply enough seed stock for the industry will be tested as the number of growers increases. Massachusetts had a severe shellfish seed shortage in 1997-98 due to the failure of one of the primary commercial hatcheries supplying the Commonwealth. Although a number of new hatcheries have been started in response to this situation, the stability of the seed supply is still in question as the industry grows and seed demands increase.

• There will always be a need for new and improving technology to keep the industry vital. Such technologies must focus on:

  • Alternate shellfish nursery technology: the key to successful production is a good supply of healthy seed stock at the right time of the year. By developing better nursery technologies, our ability to meet this need is greatly enhanced.
  • Alternate species development: the shellfish culture industry in Massachusetts currently relies on two species of bivalve, the American oyster and the quahog. Expanding the species list would take the pressure off growers if a particular species suffers a loss in any given year. Recent losses of farmed quahogs to QPX in southeastern Massachusetts offer a tragic example of a financial disaster encountered by growers who focus on a single species.
  • Genetic selection: improving the performance of commercially cultured strains of clams and oysters through genetic selection and manipulation will provide great benefits to the industry. Classical genetic selection and the application of genetic techniques to make the shellfish sterile have the potential for
    significant improvements to the growth and survival of cultured bivalves.

The shellfish aquaculture industry in Massachusetts has been growing at a rate of 10 percent per year for the past decade. Yet there is potential for continued development of the industry. With proper incentives and support for this developing industry, and a concerted effort to educate the public about shellfish aquaculture, the Massachusetts shellfish aquaculture industry will continue to provide a high quality product and significant economic benefits to our coastal communities.

For more information about the research or outreach projects profiled in Focal Points, contact WHOI Sea Grant at the address shown below.

This Focal Point was prepared by WHOI Sea Grant in collaboration with Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

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