Virginia’s shellfish aquaculture industry raked in less money last year but continues to outpace the rest of the East Coast in both clam and oyster production, according to a recent report.
The state’s farm-raised oysters and clams last year were worth a combined $48.3 million, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science estimated. Hard clams accounted for two-thirds of the total value, $32.3 million, while oysters were estimated at $16 million.
The industry’s income was off nearly 14 percent last year when compared with the estimated $55.9 million value of its output in 2014. That tally was an all-time high for the 10 years that VIMS has been surveying aquaculture production. Of the 2014 total, $38.8 million was from clams and $17.1 million from oysters.
The VIMS survey is based on information gleaned from nearly 80 growers in the state as well as its five shellfish hatcheries. To determine the value, the researchers combine the overall sales of single market oysters and clams with the weighted price per oyster or clam. For spat on shell, the researchers looked at the price per bushel.
Researcher Karen Hudson said the industry is still in excellent shape and that the drop was “not unreasonable,” especially given the cold conditions of the 2015 winter. Oyster farmers working in Tangier Sound, she noted, lost dozens of cages to ice and high winds.
“We certainly had a lot of ice. We can deal with cold, but ice is tough,” Hudson said.
While clams yield the bulk of the state industry’s income, oysters account for a growing share. Some oyster farms that began raising clams in the 1980s — when disease ravaged the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population — are now switching back. Cherrystone Aquafarms in Cheriton, VA, is one such company. It has millions of the bivalves under cultivation at several sites.
Virginia has five private hatcheries, that drive the production of oysters. According to the VIMS report, most of the bivalves in cultivation are single-seed triploid oysters, grown in floats or cages on the bottom for the half-shell market.
Maryland had very limited aquaculture until it legalized shellfish leases in all counties seven years ago, so it trails Virginia in oyster production. Nor does the state have a private hatchery yet capable of supplying the growing number of oyster farms. But several farmers are in discussions about building one.