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Va. shellfish aquaculture market still strong for clams, oysters
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Va. shellfish aquaculture market still strong for clams, oysters

GLOUCESTER POINT—Prices and markets for Virginia shellfish products remain strong as the state’s aquaculture market continues to grow.

The farm gate value for the state’s shellfish aquaculture was $53.3 million in 2018, according to the 2019 Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report published by the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The report found hard clams are the biggest economic contributor, and Virginia leads the U.S. in hard clam production. Oysters are the fastest-developing sector of Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture, and the commonwealth is ranked first for Eastern U.S. oyster production.

Though the market is strong, some hatchery and oyster production numbers showed a slight decrease in 2018. There was a 6% drop in planted oysters from 2017 and 8% less than initially projected for 2018. Despite this, shellfish growers remain optimistic.

“I don’t think the decline is indicative of the direction the industry is going,” said Mike Oesterling, executive director of Virginia Shellfish Growers Association. “The market is still exceptionally strong, leading the East Coast, and shellfish products are in great demand.”

Shellfish aquaculture has faced its share of challenges. Excessive rainfall and high water temperatures tend to restrict growth in the summer, which contributes to lower sales.

“We deal with Mother Nature on a daily basis, so it’s not surprising when we see ups and downs,” said Oesterling. “Shellfish aquaculture is one of the industries where, if you increase production, there’s a positive impact on the environment, especially by reducing sediment, reducing nitrogen and phosphorous and keeping the bay and Eastern Shore waters clean.”

Although weather affected shellfish production and sales in 2018, demand remains strong for Virginia clams and oysters, according to Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Clam growers reported a 64% increase in seed plantings during 2018, to a total of 503.7 million clams. That represents is a 41% increase in the outlook from 2017, the report notes.

The outlook for Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture market is positive, and growers can expect the coming years to remain stable as participants alter their production based on the market.

“Virginia's history and reputation for producing quality shellfish, coupled with the local food movement, bode well for a continued bright future,” Banks said.

Media: Contact Oesterling at 804-815-1316 or Banks at 804-290-1114.

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