Shellfish Aquaculture

oyster aquaculture at Hoopers Island Oyster Company Kenny Fletcher 1171x593

Colorful floats show the location of oyster growing cages at Hoopers Island Oyster Company.

Photo Credit: Kenny Fletcher/CBF Staff

Note: While restaurants around the region are closing their doors due to the COVID-19 crisis, our partners in the Chesapeake Oyster Alliance and the Maryland Shellfish Growers Network are figuring out new ways to bring the tasty bivalve to your plate. Find out where to buy Chesapeake Bay-farmed oysters and help a local company that is helping to save the Bay.

News Release: May 11, 2020 CBF Calls for Robust Aid Package for Struggling Seafood Industry: While CBF welcomes the $300 million in federal funds from the first COVID-19 response bill the Commerce Department announced last week, it is woefully short of what is needed. More in line is the $1 billion that 25 senators from states with hard-hit seafood sectors have urged Senate leaders to include in the next pandemic relief bill. Read more

What is Shellfish Aquaculture?

Shellfish aquaculture is the process of cultivating oysters, clams, mussels, or other shellfish for food. By cultivating the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster, Crassostrea virginica, oyster farmers help recover some of the oyster’s critical functions in the Bay ecosystem and economy.

Today, aquaculture supports a more than $30 million industry in Maryland and Virginia.

Why Do We Need Aquaculture?

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.

A report issued by Virginia Tech and Engle-Stone Aquatic$ shows how the industry provides valuable economic benefits and employment opportunities to Maryland’s coastal communities. It also supports a diverse suite of economic sectors from real estate and wholesale trade to food service.

Shellfish aquaculture also provides strong ecological benefits. 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. Our native Eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica, 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.

The New Farm-to-Table Economy

Take a look at the process of how oysters get from the oyster farm to your table.

Decades of Success: The 1970s

Even as a young organization, our work was effective and got noticed. Find out what we did.

Explore Our Timeline


Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

This website uses cookies to tailor and enhance your online experience. By continuing, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. For more information, including details on how to disable cookies, please visit our Privacy Policy. Close