December 5, 2018


Bureau of Aquaculture

 The shellfish aquaculture industry in Connecticut creates jobs, provides a source of locally grown food, and is a sustainable fishery that provides critical environmental services to the Long Island Sound.  

Connecticut’s shellfish industry consists of 45 harvester and aquaculture operations, harvesting hard clams and oysters from the waters of the Long Island Sound.  The industry can be further classified as 10 aquaculture cage operations, 11 operations utilizing both cage and bottom culture, and 24 traditional bottom culture operations. 

In 1998, Connecticut’s oyster industry suffered a significant mortality event caused by several oyster diseases.  This depressed the standing stocks of oysters in Connecticut for more than 10 years, during which time most operations transitioned to hard clam harvest.

Connecticut’s traditional shellfish industry has been slow to transition back to oyster cultivation. Due to recent declines in hard clam production, however, reverting back to oyster cultivation or moving towards aquaculture production will likely be necessary in order to sustain this critical Connecticut industry. 

In 2006, 511,659 bags of hard clams worth $20,165,330 were harvested, and 161,508 bags of oysters valued at $6,330,933 were harvested.

Ten years later, in 2016, the harvest numbers reflect a sharp transition in production levels. Oyster production rose to 342,278 bags, valued at $17,552,798, and hard clam landings dropped to 369,712 bags, valued at $11,313,066.

The Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg) leases out 316 parcels totaling 25,361 acres for three-year terms, generating annual lease payment revenues of $629,298, or approximately $25 per acre.

In addition to lease revenue, the State levies taxes on 675 shellfish franchise grants dating back to the late 1880s.  These premium oyster grounds total 22,411 acres and generate $88,767 annually.

In total, DoAg administers 51,055 acres of shellfish leases and grants, which generate $727,395, or an average of $14.24 per acre, each year.

Connecticut’s coastal municipalities also administer shellfish parcels dating back to the 1840s. In 2018, approximately 600 town shellfish parcels total 8,939 acres. 

DoAg is committed to expanding economic opportunities for both well-established shellfish companies and operations seeking to establish new businesses in Connecticut.

Connecticut’s leasing and aquaculture permitting system—in its current form—limits opportunities for new operations to enter the industry. As a result it has prevented Connecticut from achieving the industry growth that has been observed in other states in the Northeast, such as that seen in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. 

DoAg efforts to maintain the economic viability of the state’s shellfish industry include seeking out opportunities to work with the Legislature in order to expand opportunities for growth. 

One key component of the strategy is to work with the Legislature to develop an attainable path for encouraging entrepreneurs to enter the shellfish industry in Connecticut.  ?

An additional impediment to the expansion of the shellfish industry in Connecticut is lack of commercial access to the shore throughout much of the Long Island Sound.

Only 10 percent of the state’s existing industry own waterfront properties necessary for docking vessels or processing shellfish close to where it is landed.

The majority of companies lease dock space from marinas and, where allowed by local regulations, use town piers for unloading shellfish.  Many of the marinas located inland are not able to maintain open waterways during the winter months when ice occurs, further reducing the number of days a commercial operation can access their commercial shellfish beds.

DoAg and the Department and Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) plan to work with the Legislature and local shoreline communities to ensure water-dependent industries such as Connecticut’s shellfish industry can obtain access to commercial and industrial shoreline properties.

One potential approach for achieving greater access would be the development of cooperative working waterfront hubs to be designated for the docking of shellfish vessels and landing of product. 

These proposed “cooperative aquaculture enterprise zones” could allow operational expenses to be shared across multiple shellfish operations. In addition to berthing and landing, these zones hubs could potentially include shellfish aquaculture facilities or grow-out areas to be utilized by the cooperative members, rather than individually permitted.

These newly designated zones could expand aquaculture opportunities and create economic opportunities, particularly in historically under-served communities.

Connecticut continues to invest in the improvement of water quality in the Long Island Sound and its tributaries, enabling the further development of shellfish aquaculture throughout the Sound.

Innovation by state agencies and legislators has the potential to sustain and expand this valuable agricultural resource, providing jobs and a safe source of locally grown foods to our communities.