RICHMOND, Va. – Aquaculture continues to be an important business in Virginia with sales of oysters exceeding $60 million, according to the 2018 USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service report.
There were 134 active oyster farms in Virginia in 2018 (compared to only 60 in 2013), resulting in an increase in sales of $40 million. Among the factors contributing to this growth is an ongoing partnership between USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) and the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) keyed to restoring prime oyster habitat in the Chesapeake Bay.
In the last 12 years, these three agencies have partnered to help bring back native oysters lost to over-harvesting, disease and degraded habitat. Beds that lay dormant for decades are being returned to service to support spat-on-shell production and growing populations of not just the bivalves, but fish and other wildlife.
Virginia NRCS is committed to continuing this project and will make available $260,000 through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to sustain these ongoing efforts in Fiscal Year 2023.
“The Virginia oyster resource is balanced on a three-legged stool, with aquaculture, wild harvest, and sanctuaries making up the legs. When any of the legs are enhanced, the entire stool gets stronger,” said Andrew Button, deputy chief of VMRC’s Shellfish Management Division. “This long-running program has been an important component of strengthening the aquaculture leg of Virginia’s oyster resource,”
VIMS is offering its extensive technical experience and will facilitate community and partner outreach to support environmentally friendly practices in the state’s shellfish aquaculture industry. “Supporting more oysters in the Bay and restoring unproductive bottom is a win-win for industry and the environment,” said Karen Hudson, shellfish aquaculture specialist at VIMS, which will also partner with VMRC to help oyster farmers locate the best sites and shell sources on their leases for oyster bed restoration.
“This partnership project will foster continued improvements in Chesapeake Bay oyster production that will have far-reaching impacts on the environment and our state economy,” said NRCS Virginia State Conservationist Dr. Edwin Martinez Martinez. “The introduction of new aquaculture techniques in 2024 will not only support water quality improvements but also drive another significant increase in production that can be tracked through the next Ag Census.”
Producers who receive services from the Accomac, Chesapeake, Gloucester, Quinton, Smithfield, Tappahannock and Warsaw NRCS service centers may be eligible to participate in this project. Interested individuals must submit a signed VMRC in-take form and complete an application with NRCS by April 17, 2023, to be considered for funding in FY2023.
For more information on EQIP and Virginia RCPP projects, visit www.va.nrcs.usda.gov. To learn more about VMRC projects and activities visit www.mrc.virginia.gov/ShellfishAquaculture.shtm. For information concerning shellfish aquaculture at VIMS, visit www.vims.edu/research/units/centerspartners/map/aquaculture/index.php.