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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Shell fishing industry shows mussel

R.I. Shellfish Aquaculture Poised for Growth

By BARRY A. COSTA-PIERCE/special to ecoRI.org News
Experimental mussel culture in 
Narragansett Bay is showing great promise.
Here is a seed collection rope where
young mussels settle onto vertical lines
in the water.
(Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Sea Grant)
Rhode Island could see significant growth in its shellfish aquaculture industry at a time when demand is on the rise.
U.S. consumption of mussels is skyrocketing. Americans import about 42 million pounds a year, more than 10 times what we produce. Canada’s Prince Edward Island exports most of its mussels to the United States, employing about 130 mussel farmers who farm about 11,000 acres and produce some 37 million pounds a year.
However, mussel farming in Rhode Island and southern New England could readily compete with that of Prince Edward Island, especially in terms of quality. Local waters are rich in the plankton and particles in the water — called detritus — that feed mussels and other shellfish. Our waters also are warmer, so that mussels growing here take just 10 to 12 months from seed to market, a process that takes twice as long in Canadian waters.
Bill Silkes is president and owner of American Mussel Harvesters, a shellfish processing and marketing company in North Kingstown, and owner of Salt Water Farms in the East Passage of Narragansett Bay off Aquidneck Island. Silkes is involved in a Sea Grant National Strategic Investment grant to expand mussel farming offshore. Silkes is working with a team of Rhode Island and Massachusetts fishermen, scientists and staff from the University of Rhode Island, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole and the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) on a mussel-farming project in the waters off Newport, Block Island and Massachusetts.

He said farming mussels in southern New England has the most immediate return on investment in terms of economic development for creating significant employment and economic opportunities. Silkes added that cultivation of seaweeds for “sea vegetables” is also an area of potential growth.
“We have a number of chefs that say they are interested, and we have sent out 30 pounds of samples for feedback,” he said.
Research also shows that oyster cultivation could be increased substantially in Rhode Island. Former URI graduate student Carrie Byron found that the biomass of cultured oysters could be increased 625 times current levels for Narragansett Bay and 62 times in Rhode Island’s coastal lagoons — or salt ponds — before the ecology of these ecosystems would be affected.
For Narragansett Bay, such an expansion would translate to about 218 million pounds of farmed oysters annually — an amount that is about four times the total estimated annual harvest of fish in the bay. Byron’s “socio-ecological carrying capacity” approach to aquaculture takes into consideration not only these figures and rigorous ecological modeling, but also a stakeholder process.
With the efforts of promising scientists, innovative business owners/farmers and others, Rhode Island has a great deal of opportunity for growth in sustainable aquaculture.
Barry A. Costa-Pierce is the Rhode Island Sea Grant director and professor of Fisheries and Aquaculture at the University of Rhode Island. The story appears in 41°N, a publication of Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Coastal Institute at the University of Rhode Island.
American Mussel Harvesters’ shellfish farm off Middletown. Shown are experimental floating nursery systems for oysters. (Photo courtesy of Rhode Island Sea Grant)