By CYNTHIA DRUMMOND | Courtesy of The Westerly Sun

One of the fastest-growing industries in southern New England, aquaculture is having a significant impact on the economies, public policies and environments of the coastal states where it is taking place.

Industry representatives, policy analysts and scientists gathered Wednesday at a Metcalf Institute seminar at the University of Rhode Island’s Graduate School of Oceanography to discuss the current state and the future of the coastal aquaculture industry. They also explored the policy implications and conflicts between users of coastal ponds, and heard about the environmental benefits shellfish farming brings to ecosystems.


Matunuck Oyster Bar farm in Potters Pond.

In Rhode Island, oysters are by far the most commonly farmed shellfish, comprising nearly 99 percent of all shellfish grown. There are now 58 oyster farms in the state covering 96 acres, and more will open over the next year.

The economic value of farmed shellfish has increased dramatically in recent years, going from $4.2 million in 2013 to $5.2 million in 2014, an increase of nearly 24 percent. The value of the 2015 harvest is expected to reach $6 million.

David Beutel, Aquaculture and Fisheries Coordinator for the Coastal Resources Management Council, provided an overview of aquaculture in Rhode Island, which produced 7.5 million shellfish last year. The council is the state agency responsible for receiving aquaculture applications and regulating shellfish farms.

“It has grown very, very sharply,” he said of oyster farming. “When I talk about the increase in value, you can see why. It’s the increase in production. That’s partially due to a lot more farms. The other part is, the growers are a lot more efficient. They’ve gotten better at what they do.”

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