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Rhode Island's oyster sector gets US government boost

US Senators Reed and Whitehouse have teamed up with Roger Williams University to deliver $1.6 million in funding to help Rhode Island's shellfish aquaculture industry expand sustainably.

The Fish Site
by The Fish Site
14 August 2022, at 8:00am
four people standing near an aquaculture tank
The Senators were shown the university's oyster hatchery

Senators Reed and Whitehouse joined RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis for a "wet tour" of the university’s oyster farm in Mount Hope Bay and a "dry tour" of the university’s oyster hatchery and aquaculture wet lab

In delivering $1.6 million to Roger Williams University for shellfish aquaculture, Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse say that they are partnering with the university to develop smart strategies and direct support to make shellfish farms stronger and more productive and help new shellfish aquaculture businesses start up across Rhode Island.

Rhode Island is home to more than 80 oyster leases and 41 companies. In fiscal year 2022 appropriations law, Senators Reed and Whitehouse secured a $1.6 million earmark for RWU to provide support for shellfish aquaculture farmers in Rhode Island through aquaculture research, resources and legal services.

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RWU says that its leadership in shellfish and marine fish aquaculture has made it a go-to resource for established and aspiring shellfish farmers, who take oyster farming courses and consult with university experts on growing operations, bivalve diseases, legal questions on siting, business startup and expansion.

people standing in water near a pier
The Senators donned waders to get a first-hand view of oyster aquaculture

On 8 August, Senators Reed and Whitehouse joined RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis for a "wet tour" of the university’s oyster farm in Mount Hope Bay and a "dry tour" of the university’s oyster hatchery and aquaculture wet lab.

“For more than 20 years, Roger Williams has had the leading marine aquaculture science programme. We are proud to be writing the next chapter of our leadership work in Rhode Island’s growing shellfish aquaculture industry,” Miaoulis said in a press release. “With the right planning and partnering with Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Rhode Island’s shellfish farmers, Roger Williams University will serve as blue innovation leaders that design a progressive, sustainable coastal strategy that will serve as a best-in-class model for other regions to replicate around the country.”

Senators Reed and Whitehouse want Rhode Island to have the right strategy and resources to sustainably grow the state’s aquaculture sector and address a range of production challenges while ensuring the health and safety of fresh, local seafood.

“Shellfish aquaculture is becoming an integral part of our coastal ecosystem’s biodiversity, environmental stewardship, food security and economy. Each year, the shellfish aquaculture community continues to grow, employing hundreds of Rhode Islanders and bringing in millions of dollars in sales,” said Senator Reed. “We want it to grow responsibly and sustainably. We salute the team here at Roger Williams University. CEED offers students and people from the community a world-class education in oyster management – it’s like Oyster Farming 101. From critical research that ensures both human health and coastal health to providing practical support for launching a new business to technical feedback on what oyster farmers need to succeed, Roger Williams has become a go-to resource for Rhode Islanders.”

“Aquaculture is one of the pillars of Rhode Island’s Blue Economy, so it’s fitting that Roger Williams University has become a one stop shop for current and aspiring aquaculture farmers,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Senator Reed and I were glad to deliver federal funding to support the University’s programmes to sustainably grow the industry, create jobs, and ensure that the Ocean State continues to produce the world’s best oysters.”

Shellfish aquaculture with Senators Reed and Whitehouse

In addition to supporting RWU’s continued advancements in shellfish aquaculture science through its Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) and sharing knowledge on Rhode Island-specific ecosystems and issues with shellfish farmers and the public, the funding will expand its aquaculture operations to raise and distribute four million oyster seeds annually for Rhode Island oyster farmers in a dedicated upweller system on its waterfront learning platform. These specialised tanks are a critical step in successfully growing oysters during their early life stage, and Roger Williams will be making this important part of the growing process more accessible to local farmers.

four people standing near an oyster basket
The Senators, university president and researcher with an oyster basket

The Senators secured $1.6 million in federal funding for the state's shellfish aquaculture sector

Portions of the funding will purchase equipment to establish a histology lab to support the development of coastal resilience through shellfish aquaculture disease and pollutant testing, and purchase new analytical equipment for a chemistry lab which will play a central role in education, research and training to assess and promote aquatic ecosystem health. It will also support RWU Law School’s Marine Affairs Institute, home of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Programme, to provide legal services and policy resources to communities interested in shellfish aquaculture. 

Roger Williams University is unique in being able to provide both the aquaculture knowledge and legal expertise required to develop a thriving oyster farming industry. While the university’s mission is to conduct leading research that provides new understanding, techniques and resources – and to bring that knowledge to the world, it is also to actively engage undergraduate students and law students in research at every step to ensure that the next generations of scientists, legal experts and entrepreneurs have the experience and skills to continue making advancements in the blue economy in Rhode Island and around the globe.

two people stepping out of water

“Partnerships are at the heart of our work at Roger Williams,” said Miaoulis. “And this collaboration with Senators Reed and Whitehouse is a great example of an integrated partnership between higher ed, government and industry, that leverages our local talent, knowledge, and resources to build a stronger Rhode Island.”