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Sustainable Shellfish Aquaculture

A Message from Eileen Sobeck, Head of NOAA Fisheries
February 3, 2014

Farmed shellfish—oysters, clams, mussels, and geoducks—is an important and growing industry in the United States, with farms on all coasts in the lower 48 and in Alaska and Hawaii. This type of food production provides an important source of healthy domestic seafood, creates jobs, and helps preserve working waterfronts.

With the United States importing over 90 percent of its seafood, there is growing interest in finding ways to increase our domestic seafood supply. Through partnerships between scientists and fishermen, the United States is a global leader in developing technologies to increase shellfish aquaculture while protecting our nation’s natural resources. NOAA is doing its part. In 2011, NOAA launched the National Shellfish Initiative to increase shellfish populations in our nation’s coastal waters through sustainable commercial production and restoration activities.

I am pleased to highlight several recent accomplishments that show the progress we are making with our partners in achieving these goals. At the top of the list is the new Information for Shellfish Growers guide. Federal agencies including NOAA, the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Army Corps of Engineers are working together to improve the permitting process to eliminate barriers that discourage prospective growers. The guide, released last month, provides a valuable new tool to help shellfish farmers navigate the permiting process.

NOAA is also helping guide sustainable aquaculture development offshore. Until recently, all U.S. aquaculture facilities operated close to shore in state waters, where expansion is complicated by competition for space along crowded coastlines. In 2014, the first shellfish farms were permitted offshore in federal waters off Massachusetts and Southern California, and last month a third offshore farm was permitted off Massachusetts. NOAA will continue collaborating to ensure they operate in ways that are compatible with healthy marine ecosystems.

NOAA scientists are also leading the way in shellfish research. Our own Milford Laboratory in the Northeast, a pioneer in shellfish research, continues to earn global recognition for its contributions to the field. Researchers  from the Milford lab, in collaboration with NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Sciences, recently published a report documenting the significant benefits that shellfish farms worldwide provide to coastal ecosystems.

Besides being great to eat, shellfish are filter feeders, so farming shellfish has the added benefit of providing ‘ecosystem services’ such as improving water quality. That’s something good for seafood lovers to ponder as they enjoy their favorite shellfish, which is more likely to come from someplace near home as U.S. shellfish production expands with the help of NOAA and our many partners.


Eileen Sobeck
Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries