U.S. per capita seafood consumption ranks fourth in the world, yet we barely break the top 25 producers of aquaculture seafood globally. To satisfy our demand, we import nearly $19 billion in seafood, resulting in a $12 billion seafood trade deficit annually. Developing a profitable aquaculture industry would reduce the seafood trade deficit, create jobs in working waterfront communities, and provide consumers with fresh, locally-sourced products.
Shellfish aquaculture also provides strong ecological benefits. In Maryland, we focus heavily on our native Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. It is a prolific filter feeder and a healthy adult can filter 30-50 gallons of water daily, consuming the phytoplankton that grows on excess nutrients in the Bay. These nutrients are removed from the water and retained in the oysters' shells and tissue, improving water quality. When the oysters are harvested, the nutrients are removed with them. In the future, quantifying these ecosystem benefits could allow shellfish growers to receive compensation under a nutrient-trading system.
Under natural conditions, oysters form large reef structures that support more than 300 other species, making it a keystone species in the Chesapeake Bay. Unfortunately, oyster populations and their reefs have been reduced to a small fraction of their historical abundance. Fortunately, recent studies have shown that oyster aquaculture gear provides novel habitat to many of the same species that live on oyster reefs.
About the Network
The Maryland Shellfish Growers Network provides resources, technical assistance, and mentoring to new and veteran shellfish growers to help them apply best practices, share information, and promote Maryland's aquaculture industry. Resources provided by the network include:
- individual technical assistance from GIS specialists to help locate a lease;
- homeowner outreach and education on the benefits of aquaculture and how shellfish farms operate;
- mentorship for new growers to gain knowledge from veteran farmers;
- a growers' survey and economic outlook report outlining current and future economic benefits of Maryland's aquaculture industry;
- a database of state and federal financial assistance opportunities for aquaculture businesses; and
- a growers network calendar and directory to promote Maryland aquaculture and local seafood to the general public.
Why Should I Join?
The Maryland Shellfish Growers Network can provide you with access to resources, as well as workshops and free registration for the network's planned Maryland Aquaculture Conference. The network will host field days at participating farms to share information and best practices, and members will have access to one-on-one assistance from a GIS specialist for locating lease sites.
New growers interested in learning from veterans will be paired with a veteran grower who can provide guidance and knowledge about building a profitable aquaculture business. This voluntary mentoring program is provided at no cost to new growers. Mentors will receive a stipend for their time and be reimbursed for mileage associated with mentorship activities.
Members of the network will also be reimbursed for travel to network workshops and events.
Membership in the Maryland Shellfish Growers Network is free.
How to Join
To become a member of the Maryland Shellfish Growers Network, simply fill the application below and a member of the network facilitation team will follow up with you.
For additional information about the Maryland Shellfish Growers Network, please contact Allison Colden or call 410-268-8816.
The Maryland Shellfish Growers Network is a collaboration between the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and University of Maryland Extension.