Document Type



Virginia Institute of Marine Science

Publication Date



The Virginia shellfish industry has historically been an important element of the state’s economy. After long-term downward trends in the harvest of wild stocks, clam and oyster production from shellfish aquaculture has been growing. This report provides an analysis of the possible ways to support and enhance this expansion through a variety of shellfish policy options. Three general classes of policy alternatives were considered: 1) state policy to increase private grounds available for shellfish production, 2) state research and development programs, and 3) various financial incentives to increase production. In general, the availability of suitable lease ground is not a large barrier for expansion to oyster aquaculture. Thus, reforms to the state’s current leasing policy are unlikely to stimulate significant new production. Existing clam producers, however, identified ground availability as one of the most significant barriers to increasing production. Unlike existing larger producers, smaller clam growers were more likely to see ground availability as a barrier, providing supporting evidence that clam production would expand if more grounds were made available. In general a slight majority of active shellfish producers surveyed supported opening some of the current (unproductive) Baylor grounds to leased shellfish production. Shellfish aquaculture producers in general identified seed availability and poor water quality as major challenges to the industry. Both oyster and clam producers indicated that state policies to facilitate seed production and improve water quality would do the most to assist their operations. Some conflicts between shellfish growers and surrounding landowners have been widely publicized in the local media, but such conflicts do not appear to be a systematic or widespread obstacle for the industry. Less than 10 percent of oyster growers identified conflicts with surrounding property owners as the most important barrier limiting expansion of their operations. Clam growers expressed even less concern with land owner conflicts. State sponsored shellfish research has the potential to significantly benefit the oyster industry. Over half of all oyster growers indicated that development of triploid oysters and field trials verifying and testing new genetic strands of oysters would be the most useful lines of research. A firm level simulation analysis of oyster aquaculture operations provides additional support for these conclusions. Simulation results suggest that even small increases in oyster growth rates or reductions in oyster mortality can produce relatively large increases in rates of return on investment. Financial (price) incentives can be provided or facilitated by the state in a number of ways including direct and indirect subsidy programs, state supported efforts to enhance market margins (value-added through branding or ecolabeling), or payments for the water quality services provided by oysters. Each activity can potentially increase the effective price growers receive for their product. Based on survey results and economic modeling analysis, if these types of programs could provide relatively small increases in oyster prices then production could increase substantially. For instance a 5 cent increase in price (per oyster) may increase production between 50 and 60 percent. Clam producers may face a more significant offsetting price effect (downward pressure on clam prices) if production were to increase substantially.



Aquaculture, Fisheries, Shellfish, Virginia

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Publication Statement

The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA, or any of its subagencies.


This project was funded by the Virginia Coastal Zone Management Program at the Department of Environmental Quality through Grant #NA07NOS4190178 (Task#92.02) of the Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, as amended.



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