By Matt Jones
Connecticut's shellfish industry has grown drastically, with all indications showing that trend will continue.
A report from the University of Connecticut, sales between 2007 and 2015 increased by nearly 100 percent, to a value of nearly $30 million in 2015. Connecticut Sea Grant, meanwhile, is conducting a more comprehensive study into the state’s industry, which will be completed by October this year.
Every five years, the University of Connecticut conducts an economic assessment of the entire agriculture industry, taking raw harvest data and estimating the multiplier effects on the economy. It also looks at direct sales, jobs and how that revenue plays out in the local and state economy.
“There’s been a gradual increase in oyster production,” says Tessa Getchis, aquaculture extension specialist and educator with the Connecticut Sea Grant and UConn Extension Program. “We had a disease event in the late’90s that wiped out most of our oysters. We saw a slow recovery at first and now a more rapid recovery.”
Getchis says increased diversification of operations and techniques have helped strengthen the industry. While a large portion of the industry continues to harvest seed from natural, public oyster beds, some use the remote setting technique of oyster seed production when natural seed supplies are not available consistently.
The state has also seen the industry diversify into container culture, where producers utilize flip bags or cages rather than traditional beds. These tend to be smaller operations, but still important to the growth and health of the industry.
“A volume of shellfish is still coming out of those natural beds, but the diversification is coming from these smaller operations that are located near shore and are using different types of gear to grow oysters,” says Getchis. “We’ve had a lot of interest in that, and it is poised to scale up.”
Connecticut Sea Grant’s study into the industry is tied to the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative, which aims to grow all of the shellfish sectors in the state. Getchis says that they are collecting information about jobs, harvesting areas, types of gear used and other information to create a baseline to inform the growth of the industry.
“It’s a plan that was developed by interested parties, a public process and an evolving process,” says Getchis. “Things that were important a year ago when we created the plan may not be as important now or may have already been addressed. There are new challenges that arise and new opportunities. It’s a living document and we’re working on the implementation of the plan.”