East Coast Shellfish Growers Association
Legislative Agenda, January 2009

The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association represents hundreds of small shellfish farmers from Maine to Florida. We estimate that 1300 East Coast farms produce over $80 million worth of oysters, clams, scallops and mussels annually. The economic impact of shellfish farms is significant in many rural communities. Shellfish farming is widely recognized as sustainable and our growers are applauded for being strong environmental stewards. The development of shellfish farming provides jobs and economic development while helping the environment. Many states are experiencing rapid growth in shellfish aquaculture. Our industry is challenged by issues such as burgeoning coastal development, degraded water quality and disease. As production levels grow our industry must work to expand its markets or risk overproduction and depressed prices.

Issue: Funding for critical shellfish research

The East Coast Shellfish Research Institute (ECSRI) was formed to increase public awareness of shellfish aquaculture activities through research, education, and outreach and to channel funding from government agencies, private foundations and corporate giving programs to regional research institutions for targeted research. We are seeking funds to document the environmental benefits of shellfish culture, to develop rapid detection methods for shellfish-associated pathogenic bacteria, and for marketing research. We are especially supportive of a selective breeding and broodstock improvement program being established through a consortium of East Coast Laboratories.

Actions:

Support targeted research priorities, targeted institutions and funding levels. Targeted institutions include the NOAA/NMFS Milford Laboratory (CT), SUNY (NY), VIMS (VA), Roger Williams (RI), the Haskin Shellfish Research Lab, (NJ),the USDA-ARS Microbial Safety Laboratory (DE), and the Marine Res. Research Institute in Fort Johnson, (SC). Funding for these specific programs totals $800,000.

 
Issue: Marketing Research and Assistance

Since the shellfish industry is dominated by hundreds of small farms, it is difficult for these producers to mount a significant marketing effort. As production has grown, producers have suffered several substantial price declines. The shellfish industry needs to perform critical marketing research to identify potential new markets and new product forms, as well as actual marketing delivery to introduce new consumers to our product. We need help to deliver the message of small sustainable family farms using environmentally friendly methods to produce a nutritious product with positive health benefits.

Action:

Marketing funds are needed to stem the further price declines associated with projected increases in production. Conventional marketing grants such as USDA's Value-Added or Market Improvement grants are not designed for fresh product grown regionally.

 
Issue: Funding for NOAA and USDA aquaculture programs

The NOAA Marine Aquaculture Initiative was funded at $4.7 million in FY08, but adequate funding to make US aquaculture competitive in the global arena should be in the range of $100 million per year. NOAA also has Offshore Aquaculture Legislation pending, and this bill has provisions for general aquaculture research and for additional aquaculture positions in the regional offices to assist with permitting. Both of these programs support US aquaculture in general, and our shellfish community can successfully compete for these funds to tackle issues key to our industry.

- The NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory in Connecticut has a 75-year history of providing unique R&D, extension, and public outreach activities supporting the US shellfish aquaculture industry. The staff of approximately 50 research and support personnel provides valuable assistance to commercial hatcheries and growers. The lab has been under-funded or designated for closure for several years. Designating the Milford Lab as a "Center of Excellence" could solve these perennial funding issues, bring the lab infrastructure up to date, and ensure future funding for critical research.

- The Microbial Safety of Aquaculture Products Center of Excellence in Delaware is another lab that performs research critical to our industry, and whose funding is in jeopardy.

- The USDA-CSREES Regional Aquaculture Centers have been level-funded at less than 50% of their authorized appropriations level since their inception 20 years-ago. The Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center has been especially helpful to the East Coast shellfish industry.

- The Haskin Shellfish Lab (Rutgers) in Cape May NJ has a new 22,000-sq. ft. state-of-the-art Multi-Species Aquaculture Development Facility that remains underutilized because of a lack of funding for critical research efforts.

NOAA Actions:

Support a substantial funding increase for the NOAA Marine Aquaculture Initiative. Consider co-sponsoring and supporting the Offshore Sustainable Aquaculture Act, including its research funding provisions and the funding of regional aquaculture positions. Work with NOAA Fisheries to designate the Milford Lab as a Center of Excellence and fund at an annual appropriation of $1 million.

USDA Actions:

Support funding of the Microbial Safety Lab at Delaware State University, part of the USDA, ARS Eastern Regional Food Safety Research Unit. Support full funding for the USDA Regional Aquaculture Centers at the $8-million authorized appropriations level.

 
Issue: Crop insurance

Land-based agriculture in the U.S. is covered against unusual losses due to pestilence, disease and weather. However, crop insurance for shellfish farmers is not available at realistic rates from either private insurers or government-backed programs. A government-backed crop insurance program for shellfish farmers would help growers survive catastrophic losses. The Gulf Coast shellfish industry, in conjunction with a private contractor, developed a model crop insurance program, and that plan has been presented to USDA's Risk Management Agency. We stand ready to assist the USDA Risk Management Agency in developing a program that meets the needs of the shellfish industry.

Action:

The Risk Management Agency should be encouraged to work with the shellfish industry to develop a workable and affordable crop insurance program.

 
Issue: FDA movement toward post-harvest treatment to control illness

In recent years the shellfish industry has suffered from outbreaks of food poisoning linked to a naturally-occurring bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp). The industry continues to work with the FDA to improve the safety of our products; however the FDA is considering mandating additional control methods that would require post-harvest treatment (PHT) of all shellfish. PHT kills the shellfish as well as the bacteria, eliminating the competitive advantage we now have over foreign imports. Last year irresponsible product warnings by the FDA hurt growers who were selling uncontaminated shellfish.

FDA Actions:

Support the current Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) efforts to guide shellfish safety standards and oppose actions that might lead to a national requirement for PHT. The FDA should work closely with the ISSC before issuing advisory warnings.

USDA Action:

Restore funding support for the only USDA ARS lab doing shellfish and seafood related bacterial research; the Microbial Safety lab at Delaware State University.