Economic Benefit of Connecticut's Oyster Farming Industry
- $ 15 Million plus in farm-gate sales annually
- Over 300 jobs provided directly by the industry
- Annual shellfish harvest exceeds 450,000 bushels
More than 70,000 acres of shellfish farms are now under cultivation in Connecticut’s coastal waters.
The outlook for continued industry growth and export opportunities is very promising as the oyster production and harvests recover from the devastating effects of the 1998 DERMO and MSX disease episodes.
In 1987, to foster industry growth the State Legislature established a program within the Department of Agriculture to purchase cultch (shells) for planting on the States’ public seed oyster beds (Gen. Statute 26-237 a). The planting of shells to which the oyster spat attach themselves improves the overall condition of the oyster beds and provides a surface for the oyster to attach to and grow as seed. The cultch is distributed and planted by boats with volunteers from the oyster industry. The oyster larvae settle on the cultch in late summer and the thumbnail sized oysters are harvested by licensed seed oystermen in the fall and spring. The seed is sold by them to the aquaculture industry leaseholders for growth in the deeper, clean water where shellfish will be harvested for market three to four years later. This CULTCH program provided the continued availability of seed which is critical to the stability and future of the industry.
The program was established with the initial bond authorization of $1.3 Million in 1987. Subsequently, an additional $4,000,000 was bonded. In addition to the bond authorization, the oystermen harvesting seed from the restoration areas paid a ten percent assessment on the sale value of their harvests. The money was collected by the Department of Revenue Services and deposited in a dedicated fund to help sustain the program. To date, over 3,000 acres of State beds had been restored with approximately 5,250,000 bushels of shells.
The cultch program has been limited to approximately $95,000 per year since the 1998 disease episode. The 10% value assessment per bushel for seed removed from the public beds was eliminated by the Legislature in 2004. The Bureau of Aquaculture is currently completing the cultch program for this spring which consisted of planting 125,000 bushels of wet shell on the Bridgeport Natural Bed. No funding had been budgeted for the continuation of the cultch program. The Bureau of Aquaculture and industry members must begin to develop an alternate cultch program to sustain the availability of oyster seed on the public beds for all shellfishermen.