Group seeks common ground for future growth of aquaculture industry
At the group’s first meeting, Natural Resources Secretary Matthew Strickler noted that Virginia’s fertile waters are ideal for raising shellfish and that the commonwealth is the nation’s third-largest seafood producer. He added that Virginia is well-positioned to promote further sustainable growth of its clam and oyster economy by working collaboratively with local governments, federal partners, private businesses and farmers to reduce nutrient and sediment pollution in the state’s waterways.
“Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture, valued at over $53 million at the farm gate in 2017, is integral to Virginia’s tidal communities,” remarked Tony Banks, commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “The industry continues to have a bright outlook for shellfish demand, which means additional jobs with shellfish growers, supporting businesses and tourism, provided the stakeholders can find common ground. “From a water quality perspective, shellfish aquaculture likely has a greater role in subaquatic vegetation restoration than most give credit. We are encouraged to see that shellfish growers are included in the dialogue.”
Virginia’s environment and economy are benefiting from improved water quality in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Underwater grasses are more abundant; recreational enjoyment is on the rise; waterfront properties boost local government coffers; and the oyster industry is experiencing substantial regrowth.
“With a healthier bay, we now have the challenge of managing the many competing uses of the bay and our rivers—whether that’s farming oysters and clams, providing access for recreational boaters, rebuilding our underwater grasses, or respecting the rights of waterfront property owners,” Gov. Ralph Northam told the Aquaculture Work Group.
The work group includes leaders from the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates and representatives from the shellfish industry, local governments, waterfront communities and conservation groups.
The group will focus its efforts on finding solutions to conflicts between shellfish growers and other stakeholders, namely waterfront property owners, boaters and local governments. It also will explore how best to balance the shellfish economy with continued growth of underwater grasses. Members are tasked with providing recommendations to Strickler.