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Reed 'Nets' Over $400,000 for Shellfish Farming and Coastal Preservation

by Ellen Hardy
22 April 2008, at 1:00am

RHODE ISLAND In an effort to bolster Rhode Islands shellfish aquaculture industry and preserve coastal resources, US Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) has announced over $400,000 in federal funding for the East Coast Shellfish Research Initiative and the Natural Resources Conservation Services (NRCS) shallow water soil mapping study.

Senator Reed (pictured) announced the funding at the public dock in Wickford, where he was joined by key industry representatives. He secured the funds from the 2008 Appropriations spending bill - he is a member of the Appropriations Committee. It will be used to help researchers answer critical questions and allow continued growth and development of the industry. It will also bolster the ability of Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry to penetrate foreign markets, he said.

The East Coast Shellfish Research Initiative will use the $261,159 of the federal money. It will partner top university researchers to conduct studies that will help the region's shellfish aquaculture industry attain the goal of doubling production in ten years while creating as many as 500 full-time jobs.

The shellfish aquaculture industry on the East Coast is composed of more than 1,300 small farms with annual harvests valued at $80 million.

In Good Shape

“I am happy to report that Rhode Island's aquaculture production continues to grow at double digit rates and last year our sales of cultured oysters topped $1.5 million. Shellfish aquaculture has proven environmental benefits and we are excited to see this kind of production off only 125 acres,” said Robert B. Rheault, President of Moonstone Oysters.

He thanked Senator Reed for his support and saud this funding would prove extremely worthwhile.

"We know that shellfish aquaculture is sustainable and produces nutritious and delicious products, and we need to ensure that these products are also safe and wholesome,” he added.

Senator Reed also secured a $142,992 appropriation for the Natural Resources Conservation Service. This money will enable it to work with partners throughout the state to develop a classification system for coastal soils and a national model for coastal and submerged soil mapping throughout the United States.

There is currently a lack of detailed information about the soil and sediment of submerged land which places major limitations on management and conservation activities.

Submerged soils are vital to coastal crops and provide essential habitat for aquatic vegetation and shellfish, such as crabs, oysters, quahogs, and clams. They also serve as feeding and spawning grounds for fin-fish and provide feeding grounds for waterfowl.

Environmental Contribution

“I am pleased to have secured funding for the NRCS and URI to collect detailed data for coastal and shallow water soils that will contribute to improved management and restoration practices, which will in turn allow us to better protect coastal lands, water quality, and ecosystems,” said Senator Reed.

And Peter August, Director of the URI Coastal Institute, is in full agreement.

“Subaqueous soils tell us how well an area will support shellfishing, aquaculture, or eelgrass restoration. Just like on land, some soils are better than others for growing plants and serving as habitat for animals,” he added. “Accurate subaqueous soil maps are critical for managing our underwater natural resources. Rhode Island’s pioneering work in subaqueous soil mapping would not be happening were it not for Senator Reed’s support for and commitment to stewardship of our coastal ecosystems.”

The Senator also commented on the premier status Rhode Island was gaining for its expertise in shellfish aquaculture. He said the area had become a regional model for the growth of the industry and was proving a viable, sustainable business.

“Sustainable aquaculture is good for the environment and good for our economy,” he said.

Solid Committment Pays

In 2002, Reed secured $1.5 million for the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC) to initiate the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative. At the time the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative was established, the Ocean State ranked at or near the bottom in terms of domestic aquaculture production. This initiative has increased the breadth and depth of the aquaculture industry, helped create jobs, and promoted ecologically sustainable development. As a result, Rhode Island’s aquaculture has almost doubled production and CRMC developed regulations to support the industry.

Ellen Hardy