Delaware models new aquaculture program after RI CRMC

December 18, 2013, WAKEFIELD – When the State of Delaware began looking into developing an aquaculture program, the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) was an obvious choice for comparison and consultation.

According to E.J. Chalabala, restoration coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, all of the surrounding states were investigated, though Rhode Island proved to be the best model because of its relative size to Delaware and its Inland Bays. Chalabala said that since Delaware was the last state on the East Coast to implement an aquaculture program, they were able to borrow successful elements from other states.

“I chose (the RI) program because your state has more or less the same water/land area that Delaware has with the same problems of how to deal with public recreation and also commercial industries in the bays,” Chalabala said. “Your annual reports were good to look at, and show people that aquaculture in a small state can be done.”

The connection between the states was largely made by John Ewart, Aquaculture Specialist for the Delaware Sea Grant Program, and a University of Rhode Island graduate, former Point Judith commercial fisherman and crew member and oceanographic tech on the URI Graduate School of Oceanography’s research vessel Trident. Ewart said he has kept in contact with friends and colleagues in Rhode Island, and that has helped in making the connection between the two states.

“The Delaware Inland Bays are barrier island lagoon systems very similar to those along Block Island Sound,” Ewart said. “Both are predominantly coastal states and the two smallest in the nation. Growth since 1995 in Rhode Island has been measured and orderly and provides a good model for another small state such as Delaware to learn from and emulate.”

Over a 15-year period, Ewart said, Delaware has laid groundwork for the program by evaluating and demonstrating the value and performance of aquaculture methods, actually utilizing prototype growout gear designed by Robert Rheault, a Rhode Island aquaculturist and head of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

“The emphasis was on restoration/stock enhancement because our natural resource agency was not supportive of our work,” Ewart said. “Eventually, with positive field performance and growing public interest, the political momentum increased such that we were able to develop and pass legislation (unanimously in both house and senate) this past summer.”

Both Rheault and CRMC’s aquaculture coordinator David Beutel were both extremely helpful during the process. Beutel, who has been with CRMC since early 2009 and formerly worked as the University of Rhode Island Fisheries Extension Specialist and Fisheries Operations Supervisor, is a respected fisheries expert in Rhode Island.

“Delaware reached out to us, and we had a number of conversations about how we do things here in Rhode Island,” Beutel said, adding that Ewart knew Rheault and others through his work in the Sea Grant program. “I sent all of our regulations and (Chalabala and Ewart) asked a lot of questions about our process and how we handle the aquaculture industry. The CRMC was happy to assist the state of Delaware and it’s great that they’ve decided to support aquaculture as an industry in their state.”

Ewart said the two key elements borrowed from Rhode Island, in addition to the fact that more than 40 farms on 175 acres can produce a $3 million farm gate value – approximately 60 acres in each of the three bays in question in Delaware – is the five percent cap (the limit placed on aquaculture in the Rhode Island salt ponds) and requirement to only use unproductive bottom.

“The two-state connection is a good story and an interesting one,” Ewart said. “From my perspective as a technical advisor as this has all developed, I have advocated that while Delaware can learn a lot from larger states like Virginia and Maryland (and others), our small size limits the size and scope of our industry. Rhode Island is as much and perhaps a more relevant example for Delaware to follow to see what is possible and to better understand emerging issues as things move forward.”

For more information on the new Delaware program, go to the Inland Bays Shellfish Aquaculture Web page and report.

For more information on Rhode Island’s aquaculture program, go to