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NCCOS Research Project

Shellfish Aquaculture and Payment for Ecosystem Services in Chesapeake Bay

Primary Contact(s): suzanne.bricker@noaa.gov
This project began in September 2013 and was completed in September 2015

With U.S. capture fisheries in decline, aquaculture is being seen as a way to increase the domestic supply of seafood. However, total aquaculture production in the U.S. has not changed greatly in recent years. We are working with shellfish growers and an aquaculture business specialist to evaluate the potential compensation for eutrophication reduction provided by oyster aquaculture. The resulting additional income for growers could make aquaculture a more attractive occupation.

Why We Care
Recent aquaculture statistics show that global capture fisheries are declining and that more than 40 percent of seafood products now originate from aquaculture. The U.S. is the top global importer of seafood. More than 90 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported, and at least 50 percent of that is aquaculture product.

In addition to helping meet the demand for seafood, shellfish aquaculture can help improve water quality since shellfish filter phytoplankton and detritus, thus removing nutrients from the water. In the Chesapeake Bay region there is great interest in shellfish aquaculture, particularly for the native oyster (Crassostrea virginica).  Following the 2009 decision to not allow the introduction of the non-native Crassostrea ariakensis to the Chesapeake Bay, both Maryland and Virginia have made major commitments to expand their oyster aquaculture industries. The Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) has created an environment where the role of oysters in nutrient cycling can be monetized via a nutrient trading or offset program.

What We Are Doing
An aquaculture business specialist with the Maryland Sea Grant Program is providing one-on-one business counseling services to current and prospective Maryland aquaculturists, primarily helping determine farm sizes that will meet individual financial goals and identify the nutrient removal capabilities of the planned production. The aquaculture specialist will work with growers and with an NCCOS researcher to evaluate the potential compensation for ecosystem services provided by oyster aquaculture through application of the Farm Aquaculture Resource Management (FARM) model, which will also be used to confirm potential production determined in the grower’s business plan.

Benefits of Our Work
The project—a collaboration between NCCOS and the University of Maryland—is designed to promote aquaculture production and to provide data and information needed to include growers in the developing nutrient trading program within Chesapeake Bay. Nutrients are essentially removed from the system when the shellfish are harvested. A farmer can receive credit for the avoided cost of additional water treatment by traditional measures. This project will both support regional nutrient water quality management programs and provide tools for broader application nationally. Additionally, it could stimulate seafood production and create jobs through the expansion of aquaculture activities.

Next Steps
We anticipate that successful demonstration of the business plan and determination of potential compensation for ecosystems services shown by the FARM model will lead to this approach being used by growers in the Chesapeake Bay region and other coastal waterbodies that can potentially support aquaculture to expand shellfish aquaculture production.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources, in direct support of NOS priorities, offices, and customers, and to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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