From the Mouth of the
Bay - Winter
(Almost Spring) 2007
Two steps forward…
As the ice thaws on the pond where I work, I have the
feeling that the ECSGA has made some important strides this
past year. While occasionally it feels as if we are spinning
our wheels, most of the time I think we are making good
Our annual trip to DC gets better each year. We had
record attendance at the annual oyster reception that we
hosted with the Gulf and Pacific Coast Growers. We were also
able to visit a record number of legislative offices this
year. None of this would be possible without the assistance
and logistical support of the National Fisheries Institute
and our allies from the Pacific and Gulf Coasts.
We like to think of our issues as supported equally from
both sides of the political isle, but the fact is that most
coastal state legislatures are dominated by Democrats. Now
in the majority, they hold key committee chairmanships, and
this changes the tone in DC substantially.
Our proposal to develop Best Management Practices for
the East Coast industry has finally received funding and you
can expect to hear about workshops in a town near you soon.
The Congressional Shellfish Caucus continues to grow and
has been helpful in applying legislative pressure on our key
The East Coast Shellfish Research Institute is
incorporated and getting organized. We are hopeful that the
ECSRI will be able to earn an earmark in the ’08 federal
budget, but with the new emphasis on ethics and the budget
problems we can take nothing for granted. Our top research
priorities remain looking at the environmental interactions
of shell planting and mechanical harvesting, but this year
Vibrio parahemolyticus detection was added to the
Two steps back…
The most recent battle with the Army Corps over their
proposed new nationwide permit for shellfish aquaculture has
been time consuming and arduous. The Corps’ contention that
shell cultch and spat on cultch are “fill” (essentially a
pollutant under the Clean Water Act) has left growers
shaking their heads and pulling their hair out. We still
don’t know whether we won or lost this bout since the Corps
has not published the final rule yet, but we expect an
announcement any day now. We are cautiously optimistic that
all of the letters, conference calls and legislative
pressure will produce a permit we can live with, but if not
we will join our comrades from the Pacific and Gulf Coasts
in a push to set things right.
As is often the case we wonder why we had to fight this
battle at all. Like the fight against the listing of the
oyster as an endangered species, or the fight to keep the
EPA from changing the rules to allow more sewage to be
dumped into coastal waters, this fight with the Corps seemed
like one we should not have had to face. We are the good
guys. We have the green stamp of approval and our crops
have proven environmental benefits. How could shellfish ever
be classified as a pollutant?
As we walked the Hill in DC this year we spent much of
the time trying to secure funds. We were supporting NOAA’s
Marine Aquaculture Initiative and trying to secure an
earmark for the ECSRI. At the same time we spoke to
legislators about preserving two key laboratories whose
budgets have been stripped bare. The NOAA Lab in Milford, CT
has done critical work for our industry for decades and the
USDA/ARS Lab in Delaware has been instrumental in looking at
detection and control of Vibrio bacteria associated
with shellfish-related food born illness.
The ECSGA has also written a fistful of letters to
support local growers in state and local battles. A grower
on the Cape drew the ire of a fantastically rich homeowner
who grew tired of looking at his gear. We won the first
round in that fight, but we are seriously out gunned if this
guy decides to invest in a broader battle.
More recently, things have been getting ugly in my home
state of Rhode Island. We have enjoyed model aquaculture
regulations for several years, which have sparked strong
growth in oyster production. Starting with next to nothing,
we now have almost 100 acres under lease and just broke a
million dollars in production. Suddenly faced with five
simultaneous applications to expand, the State got cold feet
and has decided they need to put a cap on the number of
acres that can be leased for aquaculture. This despite the
fact we have one of the smallest industries of any state and
we have laws that give any other existing use preference
I have to wonder what the next big crisis will be. It
would be nice if we could just work on the farm and not have
to worry about federal and state regulators crushing our
business, but it seems that every year we are faced with
issues that threaten our livelihoods. As if weather,
predators, disease and theft were not enough to worry about!
The ECSGA is covering your back, but we need more
resources to do the job right. Our membership has expanded
every year as more growers hear about us and recognize the
value of the work we have been doing. But we need to do
I have a challenge. I want every member to recruit one
new member this year. If you know of a grower who is not a
member yet, ask him why he is not investing in the future of
his business. Dealers too!
Save the date Saturday, Aug 18 - Put the Milford Oyster
Festival on your calendar.
If you are not a subscriber to the ECSGA e-mail LIST you
are missing out on a great way to stay informed about issues
in our industry. Follow the simple instructions on our
website. It is free and if you don’t like it you can always
Special thanks to the growers who donated product for
the DC Reception: Skip Bennett (Island Creek), Jim Markow
and Karen Rivara (Mystic Oysters), Dan Grosse (Chincoteagues)
and Cedar Key Aquaculture Assoc (clams), and especially to
Tom Rossi of 4C’s Breeding Technology for walking the Hill
Cedar Key Aquaculture
Association Joins ECSGA
The water dependant heritage of Cedar Key, a rural
community along Florida's northwest coast, has been linked
with commercial fisheries for generations. During the 1990s,
increasing regulations and a state-imposed ban on gill nets
triggered economic decline and despair in this area. A
transition to shellfish aquaculture as an alternative
employment opportunity was facilitated through efforts of
federally funded, job-retraining programs. The first program
graduates were placed onto leases in 1993. Now the industry
supports over 200 clam operations on 750 acres of
state-owned submerged lands with annual dockside sales
estimated at $10 million.
In this industry’s short history, there have been several
attempts by various individuals to collectively address
issues dealing with such a rapidly growing industry (i.e.,
cooperative marketing, lease security). However, it was not
until the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association (CKAA)
incorporated in 2000 that an effective, sustainable group
The Association has met and overcome a series of
challenges that has threatened the Cedar Key clam
aquaculture industry including persuading the county in 2001
to abandon the idea of allowing septic tanks in a new
development in favor of requiring advance sewage systems.
The CKAA has also used a USDA Rural Development grant to
purchase an area for truck and boat trailer parking giving
them better access to leases. Currently, the Association is
serving as project contractor administrating state funds to
assist clam farming businesses on the west coast of Florida
recover from hurricane impacts.
To garner citizen’s support, the Association serves
clams and provides educational exhibits for the thousands of
attendees to the annual seafood festivals in Cedar Key.
They initiated the annual Clamerica festival in 2004
featuring a host of free Clamania events.
To increase their clout in the state the CKAA joined the
Florida Aquaculture Association in 2004 and contribute
annually to their lobbyist. Several board members attending
FAA’s conference last November had the opportunity to listen
to Bob Rheault, who was a featured speaker. They were amazed
at the amount of work the ECSGA is achieving on a federal
level and realized they have much in common with shellfish
growers in other states. Sue Colson, CKAA project
coordinator, commented, “With two ‘powerhouses’ of shellfish
energy combined, nothing can stop us in our efforts to
enhance and protect our industry’s future – not to mention,
all the clean water for America to enjoy.” So at their
meeting in December, the CKAA board voted to join the ECSGA
as an organization!
Shellfish Aquaculture Extension Program
Cedar Key, FL
International Boston Seafood Show
March 11-13, 2007
Boston Convention & Exhibition Center, Massachusetts.
www.bostonseafood.com (207) 842-5500.
6th International Conference on Molluscan Shellfish
March 18-23, 2007
Blenheim, New Zealand.
Caribbean & Latin American Aquaculture 2007
Nov 6 - 9, 2007
Condado Plaza Hotel
San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Links to more information are available on the ECSGA
FDA / ISSC Actions on
The FDA (Don Kramer) announced at the ISSC meeting in
Atlanta in October 2006 that they intend to increase
pressure on the shellfish industry and state regulators to
establish more aggressive control plans for V.p. The
ISSC held four regional meetings over the last few months
that were intended to be industry and regulator sessions to
talk about what could be done, especially in the area of
tightening time and temperature controls on harvested
shellfish. The only Atlantic coast meeting was held in
conjunction with the Maryland Waterman’s Show in Ocean City,
Maryland on January 26th.
Mike Oesterling, an ECSGA member and a fisheries and
aquaculture specialist at VIMS attended that meeting and has
written an excellent account of what transpired there. His
complete report can be found on the ECSGA web site. A few
quotes from Mike’s report follow:
“Perhaps the most ‘disturbing’ portion of the meeting
was the information provided by the FDA and their position
and options. This was presented by Don Kramer. He emphasized
that FDA views control of V.p. as a significant
challenge and that effective controls are not in place. This
was apparent from the fact that the interim control plan,
which was being followed, did not prevent the 2006 outbreak.
According to FDA data, V.p. outbreaks are
‘predictable and preventable’ and as such must be dealt
with. The FDA position is that the past outbreaks only
represent the ‘tip of the iceberg’ and must be addressed.
Perhaps the most distressing parts of his presentation were
the data he showed regarding documented V.p. cases.
were clearly patterns for the Pacific Northwest and the Gulf
of Mexico, there were no such identifiable patterns for the
Atlantic Coast. At this point a question from the audience
asked specifically about Chesapeake Bay. He was unable to
answer this question.”
“A great deal of discussion occurred regarding
assigning ‘responsibility’ for an outbreak. Industry argued
that they could do everything in accordance with the
guidelines for maintaining temperature and proper handling,
only to have their due diligence destroyed by abuses during
the transport, wholesale, retail, or consume handling.
However, if someone got sick, it would still be the
harvester who would be singled out as the ‘cause’ of the
problem. This is a serious disconnect that needs to be
addressed. Of all the discussions, this is probably the
biggest concern for harvesters.”
“An underlying theme regarding the potential for
post-harvesting processing kept surfacing through out the
discussions. Essentially this would be a diversion from a
raw, untreated product, to alleviate the V.p.
potential. In this same vein, the possibility of closed
harvesting seasons (e.g. summer) or ‘for shucking only’
restrictions were also mentioned.”
“So, what can the oyster culture/harvesting industry
do? First, educate yourselves on the ISSC/NSSP, by going to
their web site (www.issc.org)
and reading as much as you can about V.p. and V.v.
More importantly, however, is to contact your ISSC
representatives/members (also listed on web site) and
express your concern on this issue.”
ECSGA Annual Meeting
The ECSGA annual meeting was held in conjunction with
the Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition in
Groton, CT on December 6th. About 25 ECSGA members attended
the meeting and heard a summary of 2006 activities by
President Bob Rheault. The meeting gave the nod to a
by-laws change or other mechanism to potentially retain some
or all of the present officers beyond the two-term limit now
prescribed. And after some discussion, the meeting
attendees supported an increase in the dues for non-voting
members from the present $35 to as much as $60 for 2008.
Attendees also heard the breaking news that the ISSC has
planned a workshop at the Maryland Waterman’s Show in
January to discuss possible changes to the Vibrio
parahaemolyticus control plan. Heard too was a
discussion of possible cuts in NOAA FY 2007 funding, and a
plea for support of the Milford Lab for its special role in
shellfish research. President Rheault also announced that
our next annual meeting will probably be in North Carolina
at the same time as the North Carolina Aquaculture
ECSGA a Prominent
Presence at NACE
The ECSGA was a sponsor and major participant at the
Northeast Aquaculture Conference and Exposition meeting in
December. Our sponsorship gave us a booth where we talked
to folks about our organization and the benefits of
membership. We distributed a number of copies of our
“Aquaculture is Good for the Environment” pamphlet, and
copies of our newsletter. The ECSGA also supplied shellfish
for the Thursday evening reception. Thanks for the
shellfish donations go to Perry Raso, Jeff Gardner, Jim
Markow, Karen Rivara, Bill Silkes and Buzz Robstock.
The NACE meeting incorporated the annual Milford
Aquaculture Seminar into its program, and that helped draw
more shellfish growers to the conference and bolstered the
program with more shellfish presentations.
Tessa Getchis, our Connecticut Board member, was the
overall conference organizer and received nothing but
compliments on the conference. Good job, Tessa! NACE holds
meetings every two years, and the next one doesn’t have a
location yet, but it will probably be held in Maine.
ECSGA on Capitol Hill
For the third year in a row, ECSGA members paid a visit
to Capitol Hill to speak to senators, representatives and
staffers about issues important to our businesses. This
year’s priority focus was on the pending Army Corps of
Engineers issuance of Nationwide Permits, and their proposed
new permit that would cover shellfish aquaculture. We also
went on record supporting the ISSC process for controlling
shellfish sanitation, and opposing what we see as a slow and
steady movement by FDA toward mandating post-harvest
treatment of shellfish. We also emphasized the importance
of funding for NOAA and USDA, highlighting the poor
financial condition of the Milford, CT NOAA lab and the ARS
Eastern Regional Food Safety lab in Delaware. Our
legislative “agenda” was rounded out with a request for some
targeted funding for our new East Coast Shellfish Research
Institute, and for support of a crop insurance program. The
two-page legislative agenda we presented in D.C. can be
found on the ECSGA website.
This year, ECSGA was represented by Bob Rheault, Karen
Rivara, Tom Kehoe, Tom Rossi and Ed Rhodes. The National
Fisheries Institute again did a terrific job in coordinating
our congressional visits, arranging for meetings with NOAA
staff, hosting our all-coasts shellfish industry meeting,
and setting up a shellfish caucus breakfast and the
Wednesday evening shellfish reception. Special thanks to
Margaret Black from NFI who did much of this work for us.
The all-coasts industry session hosted by the Molluscan
Institute at NFI and attended by ECSGA, the Pacific Coast
Shellfish Growers Association and the Gulf Oyster Industry
Council gives us a chance to coordinate our messages to
congress and get some real time information on what’s going
on with our Gulf and Pacific brethren.
The ECSGA hill-walkers visited a total of 27 House and
Senate offices over the four days. We also met with the
NOAA administrator, Admiral Lautenbacher, and his senior
staff on Tuesday afternoon.
The shellfish caucus breakfast this year had the ACOE
Nationwide Permits as the discussion topic, and we were able
to present our concerns to congressional staffers over
coffee and bagels.
Over 600 people attended the shellfish reception hosted
by the three-coast shellfish groups. Raw oysters were of
course the main attraction, but some hot oyster dishes
prepared by some New Orleans restaurants were a close
second. The event was attended mostly by congressional
staffers and some House members of the shellfish caucus, but
NOAA was well represented as well including the Admiral.
We are gaining a lot of experience on Capitol Hill, and
building up relationships with congressional members and
staff that are important to having our voices heard and in
getting our business done. We can do even better if we had
more ECSGA folks trekking with us. We will be in D.C. at
roughly the same time next year – plan on joining us!
Harbor Branch Closing
In the latest upheaval at Harbor Branch Oceanographic
Institution, officials at the struggling nonprofit research
facility Thursday announced they are closing their
pioneering clam farm.
Five months after laying off 19 senior scientists and
administrative personnel, restructuring the entire
institution and accepting a new partnership with the state
university system, officials fired five employees in their
The clam hatchery and nursery — one of the first such
facilities in the nation — provides baby clams for the
majority of the 400 clam farmers throughout Florida and was
designed to train and support other farmers interested in
Jan Petri, Harbor Branch's director of government
affairs, said the institution decided to close the facility
because officials wanted to focus on research and the
facility was not making a profit.
"In terms of good fiscal management, we wanted to be
focused on research and not production," he said. "The fact
that we're losing money on clams, that was enough to make
One employee who was fired Thursday, Joe Weissman, will
be given the clam production equipment to continue the
business as part of a "contractual obligation" that
originated when Harbor Branch merged with his company years
ago, Petri said.
Weissman could not be reached for comment.
Petri said he did not know if the employees, who will be
fired when the facility closes Jan. 1, will receive a
severance package, but he said they could apply for other
jobs within the institution.
In 1984, Harbor Branch officials were the first to
develop methods to grow clams.
It expanded in 1995 with the passage of the state's
amendment limiting netting for commercial fishermen, and
scientists there trained hundreds of fishermen in clam
But in July, Harbor Branch officials highlighted the
institution's financial instability by restructuring the
organization and considering a plan to sell part of the
500-acre campus for condominium development.
After a month of community debate, the nonprofit's board
of directors voted to instead to work with Florida Atlantic
University to make the institution part of the state
Petri on Thursday said state officials continued to meet
with Harbor Branch staff to finalize a funding request to
present to the state legislature.
But Leslie Sturmer, the University of Florida's
shellfish aquaculture extension agent in Cedar Key, said the
closing of the clam farming facility will have a major
impact on the industry.
"The direct impact in Florida, if we can't produce seed
(baby clams), that we'll lose market share in the national
marketplace," she said. "We don't want that because we
support many small businesses."
While Harbor Branch continued to supply baby clams, Tom
McCrudden, a clam farmer and owner of Research Aquaculture
on Hutchinson Island, said the production has decreased
significantly over the years.
Plus, he said a new competitive nature there made for
fewer learning opportunities for fellow clam farmers.
Their job was to pass along this information to help the
private sector, but they never did that," he said. "They've
been falling short."
Pay Your 2007 Dues
The ECSGA urges you to pay your 2007 dues on-line. We use a
company called Count Me In (CMI) to provide on-line
membership services, including the ability to pay your 2007
dues with a credit card or check. If you are not yet a
member, you can join on-line as well. Our website has the
information you need to use the CMI system. Log on to
http://www.ecsga.org and at the top of the home page
you will find the link you need to pay dues or to join up.
If you prefer, you can still join or pay dues the old
fashioned way, and we have provided a membership form and
mailing address in this newsletter.