Connecticut shellfish industry sees sales jump

Some of the state’s $30 million shellfish harvest is lifted onto the docks and into the processing facility at Norm Bloom & Son Oysters in Norwalk on Nov. 15, 2017. (Judy Benson/Connecticut Sea Grant)
Some of the state’s $30 million shellfish harvest is lifted onto the docks and into the processing facility at Norm Bloom & Son Oysters in Norwalk on Nov. 15, 2017. (Judy Benson/Connecticut Sea Grant)

Connecticut shellfish is seeing a boom in recent years, with direct sales jumping nearly 100 percent from 2007 to 2015, according to a report out of the University of Connecticut.

"Economic impacts of Connecticut's Agricultural Industry Update 2015" tracked sales, job generation and labor income from the various fields within the state's agricultural sector.

Overall, the sale of agricultural products, including fruits, vegetables, greenhouse products and animal husbandry, brought in about $574 million in 2015. Shellfish sales made up about 5 percent of that at $30 million.

The report noted that while commercial fishing has experienced steep declines in sales, aquaculture in Connecticut has rebounded since two diseases devastated the oyster crop in the 1990s. With that rebound has come increases in the number of jobs on the boats and farms, in the processing facilities and in sales; about 350 people are employed on shellfish farms in the state.

In a release from Connecticut Sea Grant, based at UConn Avery Point in Groton, aquaculture extension specialist Tessa Getchis said shellfish production is growing locally. Farms are utilizing new equipment in natural shellfish beds and restoring areas used in the past for shellfish farms to drive growth, and some also are growing other crops, such as kelp.

"We've seen an explosion of interest, with a number of new, small businesses," she said in the release. "They're not producing huge volumes, but specializing in their own innovative brands and marketing their products locally."

The Noank Aquaculture Cooperative includes two companies growing oysters in the Mystic River estuary. Recent proposals for expanded shellfishing operations locally include the Niantic River between Niantic and Waterford and Quiambaug Cove in Stonington.

The rise in aquaculture also has been seen regionally and nationally, according to the report.

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