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As our days get longer I begin to look forward to going to work without needing to start the morning off with the ritual shoveling snow off the deck and busting ice on our way to work. Spring is the season of new beginnings and optimism, and in the ECSGA we have good reason for optimism as well. This spring we will unveil several exciting new collaborative projects that mark the coming of age of the ECSGA.
I am proud to announce that our lobbying efforts were successful in attracting over $700,000 in federal dollars to be directed towards the newly established East Coast Shellfish Research Institute. These funds will go to three industry-directed projects starting this summer. Over the next few months the ECSRI will be working with industry to help prioritize our research goals for the next ten years.
In another effort to spark collaborations between academia and industry we have arranged for a full day of industry sessions at the upcoming National Shellfisheries meeting in Providence, RI. Read more.
The ECSGA has been very active this winter, participating actively in the typical annual flurry of winter meetings. We held our annual meeting this year in conjunction with the Aquaculture Development Conference in Atlantic Beach, NC. That trip was followed immediately by our annual Walk on the Hill visit to DC. Again we partnered with growers from the Pacific and Gulf coasts as we spread out through the Congressional offices to deliver our message and educate the politicians about our issues. Read more.
At World Aquaculture America in Orlando I was asked to present the industry opinion on the proposed Organic Standards for shellfish aquaculture. I didn’t pull any punches in my assessment of proposed rules that would raise the bar so high that no domestic producers could ever possibly qualify. The National Organic Standards Board would like to make it a very exclusive club, and they try to do so by introducing standards that have nothing to do with organic farming. It is my sincere hope that these standards are never adopted. I think we can do much better by promoting our product as fresh, local, sustainable and safe.
Later in the same conference several dozen growers participated in a workshop held by the World Wildlife Federation entitled “A Molluscan Dialog.” WWF held a similar workshop at the North Carolina conference in January and they held one with the PCSGA this past fall. The final workshop will be held at the National Shellfisheries Association meeting in Providence on April 7. The goal of these meetings is to craft workable standards for sustainability certification. I think this should be relatively simple for an industry that is already widely recognized as sustainable and environmentally friendly, but there is always the potential for things to go wrong. I encourage industry members to come and make yourselves heard. Read about the NSA meeting.
Dermo is a common disease of American oysters (Crassostrea virginica) caused by the parasite (Perkinsus marinus). Prevalent along the US East Coast from Maine to Florida and along the Gulf Coast, Dermo was first documented in the 1940s in Chesapeake Bay. Subsequently, the disease has spread northward affecting oyster farmers throughout its range, often causing devastating losses. Typically observed in oysters at least one year old, moderate to heavy infections can reduce growth, lower the oyster’s condition, reduce reproductive potential and, of course, cause death.
Attempts to control the disease have largely focused on limiting the movement of infected seed and growing in areas of low salinity (< 9 ppt) where the parasite does thrive. Unfortunately, most oyster farmers don’t have access to low salinity growing areas and are affected by disease. This has led to a demand for genetically Dermo-resistant oysters.
In this study, Dermo resistance was assessed in two populations of oysters from Martha’s Vineyard, MA. Oysters from ponds that have repeatedly suffered heavy Dermo infections were significantly more resistant than those populations that have historically only experienced sporadic infections. This study conclusively demonstrated that populations which have repeatedly experienced heavy Dermo infections are good sources of disease-resistant brood stock, something growers have long assumed to be true.
The research also identified specific genetic markers in oysters that indicate improved immune performance, allowing shellfish hatchery managers to identify Dermo-tolerant broodstock. Gene expression analysis was carried out on select immune-related genes. In addition to serving as markers, these patterns provide insight into shellfish immune function and host-parasite interactions associated with oyster disease.
This research was supported by the Cooperative State Research Education, and Extension Service, US Department of Agriculture through the Northeastern Regional Aquaculture Center, under Agreement Nos. 2003-38500-13505.
Once again shellfish growers from all three coasts braved the January chill and came together for their annual Walk on Capitol Hill. This is the fourth year in a row that the ECSGA has joined forces whit the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) and the Gulf Oyster Industry Council (GOIC) visiting our Congressional delegations on their home turf to tell them about issues important to our industry. This year our priorities focused on:
• Continued funding of our East Coast Shellfish Research Institute to address our research priorities at targeted institutions;
• Reviving Federal support for the establishment of a Shellfish Marketing Council under the provisions of the 1968 Fish and Seafood Promotion Act;
• Encouraging the USDA’s Risk Management Agency to develop a workable and affordable crop insurance program;
• Supporting NOAA’s and the USDA’s aquaculture programs.
• Supporting the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) efforts to improve shellfish safety standards and opposing a national requirement for Post Harvest Treatment.
Our two-page legislative agenda can be found on the ECSGA website: www.ECSGA.org.
This year the ECSGA was represented by members Bob Rheault, Karen Rivara, Tom Kehoe, Tom Rossi, Dan Grosse, Harold Cherrix, AJ Erskine and Kathy Rhodes. Margaret Black and her team from the National Fisheries Institute provided essential logistical support by coordinating our meetings with Congress and NOAA, as well as the shellfish reception on Wednesday evening. We owe them a huge debt of gratitude as we couldn’t have done it without them. In all we pounded the pavement for two days and visited 21 House and Senate offices. (The “Walk” was shortened this year due to the Martin Luther King holiday.)
On Monday, the Molluscan Shellfish Institute, (which is an NFI organization composed of the members of the growers associations from all three coasts) met to discuss the issues we would be raising on Capitol Hill. During the day-long meeting we shared each association’s issues and heard numerous presentations from various groups.
A representative of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) described FishWatch, their seafood marketing program and we heard about the USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service. We were apprised of the current state of the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Commission (ISSC) and we discussed the FDA’s rigorous definition of the word “outbreak” in publicizing shellfish-related disease. We heard about the progress of the World Wildlife Fund’s Sustainability Program and the private, non-profit Clean Beaches Council. We also discussed how the limited availability of H2B visas for temporary foreign workers was causing problems for many in the seafood industry.
We also attended a luncheon with Representative Rob Wittman from Virginia, who was just elected this past December. Congressman Wittman spent many years with the Virginia Health Department, Division of Shellfish Sanitation. As Mike Voisin of the GOIC wrote, “Rare is the opportunity to have a Member of Congress who knows our industry and issues so deeply. [He is an] individual who has spent nearly 30 years in and around the issues that impact the seafood industry and more specifically the shellfish community. Rob, in many ways, is one of us.”
About 30 growers from all three coasts met with NOAA brass for over an hour in the Commerce Building. We voiced our concerns over NOAA’s budget priorities and the meager funding aquaculture receives in comparison to issues like endangered species and fisheries. One of our perennial issues is trying to find funds to support the NOAA Lab in Milford, CT, one of few labs in the nation doing shellfish aquaculture research.
This year’s “Let the World Be Your Oyster” shellfish reception was held at the Acadiania Restaurant and was a huge success. The annual event is hosted by the three industry organizations, GOIC, PSCGA and ECSGA and this year attracted over 600 congressional staffers, House members and agency folks. Admiral Lautenbacher, head of NOAA was there with dozens of staffers again this year. Several growers made this event a huge success with excellent donated product.
We continue to develop our ability to deliver our message to our federal Representatives in Washington. We have developed several key alliances and have made great progress in a short time. One thing is clear; however, we would be much more effective if we had more members up there with us. We will be in D.C. again early next year. Please make plans to join us!
The National Shellfisheries Association (NSA) www.shellfish.org, is an international organization of scientists, management officials and members of the shellfish industry. The NSA is holding its annual meeting, celebrating 100 years of shellfish, at the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island from Sunday, April 6 to Thursday, April 10. This year, on Tuesday, April 8 organizers have scheduled a day’s worth of talks, workshops and presentations designed specifically to be of value to shellfish farmers. Hopefully growers will find “industry day” to be time well spent.
The morning will include a “Down on the Farm” session with a dozen presentations on relevant applied topics, such as reducing winter losses of quahogs, increasing the cost-effectiveness of oyster farming, methods for culturing blue mussels, and improving upweller performance. There will also be a discussion of the development of best management practices for east coast shellfish farming.
The afternoon will include a dialog run by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) to establish codes of practice and possibly to develop a sustainability certification program. This dialog is part of a national series and is an excellent chance to make sure your voice is heard. You can read more about the dialogs on the WWF website (www.worldwildlife.org) or in the last ECSGA newsletter available at www.ECSGA.org.
Topping off the day will be an evening happy hour and scientific poster presentation, followed by an auction to support student participation in NSA. It’s a fun raucous event and a great chance to find some interesting shellfish-related items, support students and meet new folks. Daily registrations are available at www.shellfish.org, but of course you’re welcome to register for the meeting and see the full slate of talks!
The ECSGA annual meeting was held on January 19th in conjunction with the North Carolina Aquaculture Development Conference in Atlantic Beach. The Conference was well organized and informative, although there were not have many ECSGA members in the crowd. Several North Carolina growers joined as a result of our meeting there so they now enjoy Board representation. We are pleased to welcome Jay Styron, the new North Carolina representative on the ECSGA Board.
The minutes for this, and all of our meetings, can be found on the ECSGA website.
ECSGA's BMP Meetings (first round)
Massachusetts - March 27, 2008
Maine/New Hampshire - March 28, 2008
Contact Gef Flimlin for details (732)349-1152
The National Shellfisheries Association 100th Annual Meeting, April 6-10, 2008 in Providence, Rhode Island. www.shellfish.org -Also at the same time and location-
Northeast Shellfish Sanitation Association (NESSA) Meeting, April 8-9
25th Annual Meeting of the Aquaculture Association of Canada, Aquaculture Canada 2008 in conjunction with Aquafair 2008 May 11 - 14, 2008 in Saint John, New Brunswick. www.aquafair.ca
Links to more information are available on the Upcoming Events page of the ECSGA website. www.ECSAG.org
Recently, the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC), enacted two regulations affecting commercial shellfish farmers. The first regulation clarified the permitting and reporting requirements for shellfish culturists while the second established a general permitting process for the use of temporary protective devices used in primarily oyster aquaculture.
Last year (2007), VMRC established licensing and reporting requirements for shellfish aquaculture. However, confusion over these regulations led them to revise the licensing structure again by establishing an Aquaculture Product Owner permit (clam or oyster) and an Aquaculture Harvester permit (clam or oyster). The Aquaculture Product Owner permit will be required of any person or firm that owns [shellfish], raised by any form of aquaculture.
Anyone who is not a permitted Aquaculture Product Owner, but who harvests cultured shellfish must obtain an Aquaculture Harvester permit. The Aquaculture Product Owner permit costs $10 per year, while the Aquaculture Harvester permit is $5 per year. It is the responsibility of the Aquaculture Product Owner permit holder to comply with the mandatory reporting requirements. Both these permits will be used to help track the harvest and effort extended within the Virginia commercial shellfish aquaculture industry. These will supplement the annual Virginia Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service economic survey which documents production trends within the shellfish culture industry.
The second regulatory change was the creation of General Permit #4 For Temporary Protective Enclosures for Shellfish (Chapter 4VAC20-1130-10 et seq.). The purpose of this regulation was to establish a general permit for the use of temporary protective enclosures for the propagation of oysters and clams, including a notification process and special conditions necessary for the protection of public safety, navigation, natural resources, and the environment.
This general permit was mandated by the Virginia General Assembly. Those who wish to pursue a general permit must apply only to the VMRC and satisfy the conditions of the regulation, thereby streamlining the entire process.
The regulation also establishes a fee schedule based on the number of structures used. Some of the conditions relate to the size of the structures, set-back distances from shorelines or piers, marking requirements and structure density. This General Permit specifically does not authorize the placement of any temporary protective structure designed to float on the surface of the water. For the specific language and conditions of the general permit see the VMRC web site: www.mrc.state.va.us/regulations. Culture operations which do not qualify under General Permit #4, may still apply for operational permits via the normal application and review process. Additionally, shellfish culture gear which does not extend above 12-inches of the bottom is covered under existing regulations and does not require either a General Permit or other permit.
AGR-Lite is a whole farm revenue protection plan of insurance. AGR-Lite provides protection for loss of production from natural causes as well as price protection from market fluctuations that reduce your income. This is very innovative and beneficial to producers, because most crop insurance programs do not guard against loss of income due to market fluctuations.
RMA first offered an Adjusted Gross Revenue (AGR) Program in 1999. However, the program excluded producers deriving more than 35 percent of their income from livestock or aquaculture. Then, in 2003, RMA began offering the AGR-Lite Program and the product is now available in all East Coast states. AGR-Lite works very well for aquaculture producers, because it does not have any livestock or aquaculture limitations. And, like other Federal Crop Insurance Programs, AGR-Lite premiums are highly subsidized by the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation (FCIC).
The AGR-Lite revenue guarantee is based on a producer’s five-year historical farm average revenue as reported on Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax returns (Schedule F or equivalent forms) and annual farm reports. AGR-Lite provides insurance coverage to all aquaculture species under the same policy and establishes revenue as the common basis for coverage. AGR-Lite rules of eligibility are as follows:
• Be a US Citizen or resident;
• File a calendar year or fiscal year tax return;
• Produce agricultural commodities primarily in counties where AGR-Lite is available;
• Have liability not exceeding $1 million (less than $2,051,282 gross revenue);
• Have had same tax entity for 7 years (file 5 consecutive Schedule F tax forms, plus previous year and insurance year) unless change in tax entity is approved by the insurance provider;
• Have not more than 50 percent of total revenue from commodities purchased for resale;
• Have no more than 83.35 percent of total revenue from potatoes.
The sales closing date for AGR-Lite is March 15, and the cancellation and termination date is January 31 of the following year. The crop year for AGR-Lite is the calendar year in which the sales closing date occurs and includes both calendar year and fiscal year filings. First year policyholders will not be covered for losses that occur earlier than 10 days after your provider receives your properly completed application. For carryover policies, losses will be covered that occurred during the previous or current crop year. Finally, AGR-Lite can be used in conjunction with other crop insurance programs, including RMA’s Cultivated Clam Pilot Crop Insurance Program.
AGR-Lite coverage levels and payment rates are selected by the producers and depend on the number of commodities produced. If you produce oysters and/or clams, you are eligible for up to a 75 percent coverage level and a 90 percent payment rate. If you produce three or more commodities, you are eligible for up to an 80 percent coverage level and a 90 percent payment rate. As an example, let’s say you produce oysters and/or clams, your average adjusted gross revenue is $200,000, and you chose a 75 percent coverage level and 90 percent payment rate. Your inception point for coverage would be $150,000, and for every dollar your revenue dropped below $150,000 you would receive 90 cents in indemnity.
Aquaculture producers face high production costs, numerous production perils, and substantial market risks. The AGR-Lite Program, with its Federally subsidized premiums, can help producers better manage their many risks. Producers interested in the AGR-Lite Program should contact a crop insurance agent for more information and full program details. A crop insurance agent locator is available on the RMA website at www.RMA.USDA.gov. The website also provides an AGR-Lite Program premium calculator and additional details about available crop insurance programs.
In my previous article, “Crop Insurance for Shellfish Producers,” I noted how aquaculture has solidified its position, over the past decade, as a vital part of American agriculture. The importance of the aquaculture industry is evidenced by the pending Farm Bill’s numerous provisions related to aquaculture. It is certainly exciting to be associated with such a growing and dynamic component of the agriculture industry.
This article is the second in a series of risk management and crop insurance articles that will be published to Aquaculture producers. Custom Ag Solutions conducts crop insurance education programs for producers in partnership with USDA’s Risk Management Agency. For more information about risk management and Federal crop insurance programs please visit www.RMA.USDA.gov, for information by mail, call 877-277-8094.