Global aquaculture production is growing, and approximately 50 percent of global seafood consumed is cultured. The U.S. aquaculture industry produces $1 billion in seafood, but this is less than 5 percent of the seafood consumed in the U.S. Studies have shown that, done properly, shellfish aquaculture is a sustainable method of food production that also provides important ecosystem services, such as providing critical habitat for juvenile fish and also removing nitrogen from the water.

In Rhode Island, aquaculture is one of the few growth industries with the number of farms increasing substantially since the mid-1990s. Shellfish aquaculture is largely oysters, and in 2011 totaled nearly $2.5 million in revenue. The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council is the lead agency involved in permitting aquaculture.

Some of the issues voiced by the aquaculture community during the SMP scoping sessions include:

  • The need to better understand existing uses within state waters, which will assist in planning for the promotion and enhancement of existing and new uses while also minimizing impact.
  • Better coordination between state and federal agencies to help clarify the regulatory process and facilitate data collection.
  • Concerns that aquaculture should be viewed and regulated as an agricultural activity.


The RI Coastal Resources Management Council – The Coastal Resources Management Council is a management agency with regulatory functions. Its primary responsibility is for the preservation, protection, development and where possible the restoration of the coastal areas of the state via the issuance of permits for work with the coastal zone of the state.

Connecticut Sea Grant Marine Aquaculture and Shellfisheries Program aids the expansion of sound aquaculture businesses in the state.

NOAA’s Office of Aquaculture – The mission of the Office of Aquaculture is to foster marine aquaculture that creates employment and business opportunities in coastal communities; provides safe, sustainable seafood; and supports healthy ocean populations and ecosystems.

Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center – NRAC lies at the heart of 21st century expansion and diversification of a northeastern aquaculture industry, which will grow by using advanced production technologies to compete in the global marketplace. NRAC will aid the industry to become economically viable and environmentally sustainable, helping aquaculture to become a significant component of Northeast agriculture and an essential complement to wild capture fisheries.
Oyster Gardening for Restoration and Enhancement, Roger Williams University – Using seed grown at Roger William hatchery in Bristol, this program utilizes volunteers and schools to plant oysters and grow oyster reefs for restoration purposes.

Oyster Recovery Partnership is a non-profit effort to restore oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.


A Brief History of Oyster Aquaculture in Rhode Island by Michael A. Rice, University of Rhode Island (2006). Starting back as far as 1643, this document works through the history of shellfishing in Rhode Island, concentrating on shellfishing industry’s oscillating rise and decline. It places a particular emphasis on the Oyster Aquaculture sector in RI.

Aquaculture in Rhode Island: 2011 Annual Status Report, by David Beutel, CRMC (2011). This paper provides information about comparisons between 2010 and 2011 Rhode Island shellfisheries data. It specifically looks at aquaculture farm productivity in terms of industry dollar value, the dominant species of aquaculture in state, and employment rates within the industry. It reviews institutions doing valuable research in RI (Roger Williams U; URI) concerning aquaculture, and concludes with the outlook for 2012.
Carbonate Mineral Saturation State as the Recruitment Cue for Settling Bivalves in Marine Muds by M. Green, et al., Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (2012). Juvenile bivalves undergo a transitional phase in the benthic sediments of their home range where they explore and then accept/reject sediments. Little is known about the settlement cues the juveniles follow to productive shell-growth environments. In this paper, the authors provide evidence that ‘mineral thermodynamics’ may be the overarching cue eliciting response from new settlers to a benthic environment.

Coastal Acidification by Rivers: A Threat to Shellfish? by J. Salisbury, et al., University of New Hampshire, St. Joseph’s College (2008). Ocean acidification has been attributed to many different factors, but coastal marine ecosystems are often subject to acidification via river water; while river plumes have generally been acidic when compared to the receiving ocean, “the chemical nature and magnitude of discharge” are changing – in part due to climate change and land-use practices. Acidification of shellfish habitat has been shown to prevent or reverse the growth of vital shell tissues.

Death by Dissolution: Sediment Saturation State as a Mortality Factor for Juvenile Bivalves by M. Green, et al., University of Maryland, St. Joseph’s College (2009). Death by dissolution (or the breaking-down of shell material) is an important, size dependent mortality factor for juvenile bivalves; the smaller the shellfish, the more likely it is to face death due to dissolution. The buffering of muds against lower saturation states (associated with low pH values) via the addition of crushed shell material to a patch may represent a potentially important management strategy to increase juvenile bivalve survival rates. (A note on the link: to download the document, click the link under “Click to Download Full Text”.)

Industrial Shellfish Aquaculture is converting Puget Sound Aquatic Habitat to Agricultural Use: How much expansion is good for Puget Sound? Coalition to Preserve Puget Sound Habitat (2007) [slideshow]. The CPPSH’s goal is to “protect the habitat of Puget Sound tidelands in relation to expansion of new intensive shellfish aquaculture methods and practices”. Focusing on Puget Sound Geoduck farms, this presentation addresses concerns such as: habitat degradation & fragmentation, conversion of natural ecosystems to agricultural use (the extent/ rate of this expansion), invasive species, disease, and interference with recreational/residential public uses, to name a few.

Innovative Oyster Production Takes a Big Step Forward, State of New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection (2012) [news release]. The NJ DEM has developed four Aquaculture Development Zones (ADZ) for their state waters in an effort to improve the $20 million dollar/ year, Delaware Bay oyster industry. By advancing the economic viability of these zones the industry is better protected and the ecological health of these zones has increased due to enhanced protective measures. Also mentions off-shore permits in other zones as prime for both shellfish and macroalgae/seaweed production.
Maine Ocean Acidification with Mark Green (2011) [Video]. Saint Joseph’s College professor Mark Green explains effects of ocean acidification on shellfish larvae in Maine.

NROC White Paper: Overview of the Aquaculture Sector in New England by George Lapointe, Northeast Regional Ocean Council (2013). This paper describes the current status of the aquaculture sector in New England, as well as key issues and trends that are relevant to aquaculture, including issues that provide context but may not be related to ocean planning. It is meant to serve as a starting place for discussion between NROC and sector leaders/participants on key issues and challenges facing this sector. The document was written to be fluid/adaptable based on the results of these interactions with stakeholders.
Opportunities and Potential for Aquaculture in New Jersey: An Update of the Aquaculture Development Plan, New Jersey Aquaculture Advisory Council/New Jersey Department of Agriculture October (2011). This update to the 1992 ADP covers the current status of aquaculture, the business perspective of the industry, as well as the regulatory and technical (thorough scientific) aspects of it – addressing these perspectives at the global, national and local levels. The business section covers local marketing, employment and finance; the regulatory section reviews the role of state agencies, and their coordination; and the technical section looks at acreage potential, data sources, and education/training opportunities.

Oysterlicious – Oyster Master’s Class, Patrick McMurray, (2012) [Webinar]. A webinar by world-champion oyster shucker Patrick McMurray from Canada detailing the different oyster species, tastes, and a shucking lesson. View the accompanying presentation slides here.
Oyster Recovery: Bill Benefits Bay and Businesses, CNS Maryland (2013) [Video]. There is a proposed Oyster Shell Recycling bill before the legislature in MD – participants receive $1 tax credit for each bushel of oyster shell recycled during the tax year (up to $750). Shells are collected, aged for 9-12 months and then used to grow baby oysters (spat). “The more oysters, the more filtration of the bay, the more filtration of the bay, the better the water quality, the better the natural habitat on bottom.”

Oyster Shell Dissolution Rates in Estuarine Waters: Effects of pH and Shell Legacy by G. G. Waldbusser, et al., National Shellfisheries Association (2011). Oyster shell is a vital component of a healthy oyster reef, and as such, understanding the cycling/lifetime of shell mass (shell legacy) is becoming more important, especially with increasing concerns over ocean acidification (low pH). In this paper, the researchers found that while shells do lose mass even under noncorrosive conditions, lower pH levels do lead to increasing dissolution rates.

Scientists study the effects of ocean acidification on the Gulf of Maine by Peter Mcdougall, The Working Waterfront (October, 2009) [news article]. This article focuses on Dr. Mark Green’s research in Maine. While atmospheric CO2 is one of the main causes of ocean acidification, the impacts on coastal muds has also been a result of human activities. Mollusks (includes bivalves), are considered to be indicator organisms for high acidity. The increased mortality of juveniles has been shown to subside when crushed shells have been added to the coastal muds, increasing the availability of carbonate ions in the water (used in shell creation).

Summary: Aquaculture Sector Working Session, Northeast Regional Ocean Council (December, 2012). NROC organized a series of 3 working sessions for members of the aquaculture sector in New England as part of a regional planning effort. The three main topics of these sessions were permits & leasing, current & future space needs/compatibilities for aquaculture, and aquaculture sector data. This summary provides a synthesis of comments and questions from these working sessions [CT, MA, ME], capturing the key themes and ideas that were mentioned with the greatest frequency.

The Great Oyster Crash: Ocean acidification hits the Pacific shellfish industry by Eric Scigliano, OnEarth, August 2011. In this 2011 article, Scigliano investigates Vibrio, ocean acidification and other threats to shellfishing in the Pacific region. Particularly illuminating are Alan Barton’s comments on ocean acidification at the end of the piece. For more information, check out this Q and A with NRDC senior scientist Lisa Suatoni on acidic oceans.

The Social and Environmental Impacts of Industrial Aquaculture in Washington State, Coalition to Protect Puget Sound Habitat (2009). This review cites continuous change/disruption & modification of ecosystem, elimination of native species, use of invasive species correlated with high ecological impacts, restriction of public’s right to shoreline use, and consumer health issues (eating shellfish, aka – “nature’s cleaning service”), as the main impacts of new, large-scale aquaculture operations of Puget Sound. Policy and regulation short-comings are reviewed.

For a working list of resources and references, please visit the RISMP Resources page.