Since the November launch of Rhode Island’s Shellfish Management Plan (SMP), research and outreach efforts have continued, and the SMP stakeholder meeting held at URI’s Graduate School of Oceanography on June 25th was an opportunity to share recent progress as well as promote upcoming efforts.
Since the fall, the SMP team has worked to turn many of the numerous policy and research recommendations, such as a Vibrio plan for hard clams, into a reality. With additional shellfish research slated for 2016, the team hopes to continue to work alongside Rhode Island Sea Grant and others to continue producing new knowledge for the benefit of the shellfishing community.
The research agenda [developed by the Shellfish Management Plan] is what drove, in large part, Rhode Island Sea Grant’s 2016 research omnibus, which focuses on shellfish research,” said Azure Cygler, fisheries extension specialist for Rhode Island Sea Grant and the Coastal Resources Center, noting that while Sea Grant’s research omnibus also welcomes proposals for fisheries and climate change, it recognizes the importance of funding shellfish research into 2018 because of the science-based recommendations in the SMP.
Rhode Island Sea Grant is currently funding six aquaculture-related research projects, including a study led by URI Marine Affairs Professor Tracy Dalton on public perceptions of aquaculture activity in local waters. The study, which was recently highlighted by Providence Business News, (p. 25), has just released a mail survey to 1,400 Rhode Island homes aimed at measuring the social significance of aquaculture.
“Those results will help inform management on different uses and the acceptability of aquaculture,” said Cygler.
Also worth noting, according to Cygler, is the Division of Aquaculture at the R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been, “very supportive and recognize aquaculture as agriculture.”
“The FDA has offered $4500 to oyster disease monitoring,” said Cygler. “It’s a significant gesture in that it recognizes aquaculture as agriculture, and that we should be partners with the aquaculture industry in that regard, which will hopefully lead to more oyster research through the FDA.”
The SMP has expanded its means of public outreach by supporting the R.I. Department of Environmental Management’s public clamming classes and working in collaboration with local shellfishermen and growers to enhance their industries through marketing and public awareness.
Other highlights included student presentations on ‘aquaculture tourism’ and oyster restoration programs. Matt Griffin, researcher from Roger Williams University, highlighted the trials and tribulations of various oyster restoration projects in the state over the last fifteen years. In an effort to restore wild populations and promote healthy habitat growth, 26.3 million oysters were placed in Rhode Island waters between 2003 and 2014.
“The bottom line is that there’s been excellent growth and acceptable mortality, but a lack of recruitment causing unsustainability,” said Griffin, explaining that mortality is exceeding the rate in which oysters reproduce. “We need more recruitment. The crux of the problem is most likely site selection, but we need to have a better understanding of the wild population. It’s not a negative take-home message because we grow fantastic oysters on the reefs, it’s rather a message of learning from our previous efforts and maximizing ecosystem services.”
In the coming months the SMP intends to continue expanding joint agency activities, industry research, and a study on vibrio remedies for hard clams.