FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 5, 2014 CONTACT: Chip Unruh (202) 224-4642
Reed Celebrates National Oyster Day and RI’s Growing Aquaculture Industry
MATUNUCK, RI – Today, mollusk lovers across the country are celebrating “National Oyster Day,” and more and more of them are slurping and savoring oysters from the Ocean State. That is because more oyster farms are successfully cropping up along Rhode Island waters and producing some world-class oysters along with double digit sales and job growth.
U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) convened a meeting this week of Rhode Island oyster farmers, restaurant and small business owners, and environmental officials for a discussion about the state’s growing aquaculture industry and the Rhode Island food economy.
Reed, a strong advocate for shellfish growers and the state’s sustainable aquaculture industry, and the stakeholders gathered at Matunuck Oyster Bar, opened in July of 2009 by Perry Raso. The award-winning restaurant overlooks his 7-acre oyster farm in East Matunuck, and visitors can tour the farm to see how the oysters are raised and how they get directly from the pond to the plate.
Monday’s event included a roundtable discussion about the challenges and opportunities facing the aquaculture industry, followed by a boat tour of Raso’s farm on Potter Pond, where Reed got into the water for a “deep dive” hands-on tutorial on oyster farming.
“Restaurants from all over are clamoring to get Rhode Island oysters on their menu, and we want local oyster farmers to have every opportunity to grow their businesses and expand their customer base. Sustainable aquaculture is good for the environment and good for our economy,” said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee. “I am proud to have secured federal funding to help local oyster farmers grow their businesses, restore the health of the Bay and estuaries as well as provide healthy, sustainable, and delicious shellfish to consumers across the country. The industry continues to grow, and I will continue efforts to help the state’s aquaculture industry expand to new markets.”
Since 2002, Reed has secured $3.6 million in federal funding to hatch and support the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative, which has increased the breadth and depth of the local aquaculture industry, and to help oyster farmers create jobs, restore the health of the Bay, and promote ecologically sustainable development. As a result, the state’s aquaculture industry now serves as a model for other coastal states. Reed also included language in the latest Agriculture Appropriations report bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to partner with research institutions on shellfish research. Thanks in part to Reed’s efforts, there is currently a USDA shellfish geneticist based at the University of Rhode Island looking at ways to help boost commercial oyster farms.
“It was great having Senator Reed come visit and help shine a light on the great story of shellfish aquaculture and how it is developing in Rhode Island. We have a great industry blossoming, with green jobs, nutritious local seafood and tangible benefits to local water quality thrown in for good measure. A real win-win-win for Rhode Island,” said Bob Rheault, Executive Director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.
More than 6.4 million Rhode Island oysters were sold for consumption in 2013, according to the RI Coastal Resources Management Council’s (CRMC) 2013 Annual Status Report on Aquaculture in Rhode Island. And local growers raked in more than $4.3 million and hired more aquaculture farm workers, swelling their ranks by over 20%, from 105 to 127. The number of aquaculture farms in the state has increased too, from 37 in 2010 to over 50 in the last year.
“The plateauing of our fisheries and increasing population is creating a widening gap between the supply and demand of seafood. Aquaculture is the only way to increase seafood production given the limited supply of wild seafood. Aquaculture has to persist in an environmentally sustainable manner and shellfish aquaculture is sustainable aquaculture. Raising filter feeding bivalves such as oysters increases dissolved oxygen levels and biodiversity in our coastal ponds and Bay,” said Raso. “My farm started in 2002 when I received my one acre lease in conjunction with Reed Initiative funding for the ‘Ocean State Aquaculture Education Project,’ which fostered the expansion of shellfish aquaculture through educating people about the impacts of the industry. The funding helped me get on my feet and expand on the operation over the 4 years of the project.”
“The Matunuck Oyster Bar, Matunuck Vegetable Farm, and over 200 employed here are a result of Reed’s advocacy for the shellfish aquaculture industry in Rhode Island,” he added.
Bivalves are becoming big business in the Ocean State, and world-class aquaculture research facilities at the University of Rhode Island and Roger Williams University are helping to lead the way. With federal support from Senator Reed and additional funding from private donors, Roger Williams opened a newly renovated and expanded $4 million research facility and shellfish hatchery.