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The original item was published from 9/20/2018 2:30:34 PM to 10/2/2018 12:05:00 AM.

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Conservation Commission

Posted on: September 20, 2018

[ARCHIVED] Valuing Shellfish Beyond the Market

Valuing Shellfish Beyond the Market

Scientists from the Northeast Fisheries Science Center are presenting their research at the 2018 American Fisheries Society (AFS) annual conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey, from August 19 - 23. Mark Dixon, biological science technician at our Milford Lab in Connecticut, AFS presentation focuses on developing a comprehensive and multidisciplinary approach to valuing shellfish resources in coastal communities. This feature story is an extension of his presentation for AFS participants and those involved in fisheries science and natural resource management.

Valuing Shellfish for Nitrogen Removal

“The whole idea of this study was to really think of a more comprehensive and inclusive way to value shellfish resources in coastal communities beyond just the value of the commodity itself, what else is important to communities, and how do you place a number on that,” said Mark Dixon, biological science technician at the Milford Lab. To understand shellfish resources, Dixon and his Milford colleagues began a pilot study in Greenwich, Connecticut. Their goal was to develop a multidisciplinary approach to valuing shellfish resources in coastal communities. It focused on ways to assign value to the nitrogen removal capabilities of shellfish and the socioeconomic value communities place on shellfish resources. They did this by:

  1. Calculating nitrogen removed when shellfish assimilate the nutrient into their tissue and shell as they grow
  2. Comparing the nitrogen removed by shellfish to the amount of nitrogen coming from Greenwich sources, which University of Connecticut research scientist Jamie Vaudrey and her colleagues modeled for all Long Island Sound coastal municipalities.
  3. Collaborating with Anthony Dvarskas, resource economist and professor at Stony Brook University, to calculate the value of nitrogen removal service
  4. Building trust and relationships with the Greenwich Shellfish Commission and Greenwich aquaculture industry partners

Collecting Data for the Models

The Milford team used two data collection methods for two different species of shellfish: The Farm Aquaculture Resource Management (FARM) model for oysters and the biodeposition method for hard clams with a nitrogen component added. The FARM model was developed by Joao Ferreira at New University of Lisbon, Portugal. Suzanne Bricker, a colleague at the NOAA National Ocean Service Oxford Lab, modeled Greenwich oyster aquaculture operations using FARM for this project.

The FARM model lets users calculate the yield of an aquaculture operation based on the local natural food supply of phytoplankton and organic matter, farm size, shellfish stocking density and environmental parameters. “It’s a cool platform because it models shellfish growth based on local environmental conditions and it also combines that shellfish and farm scale aquaculture model with a water quality assessment model, which is unique to FARM. It looks at how the aquaculture farm can benefit local water quality in terms of reducing excess chlorophyll and improving dissolved oxygen levels,” said Julie Rose, research ecologist at the Milford Lab and co-author of this AFS presentation.

To gather necessary food supply and environmental data, Dixon and others at the Milford Lab sampled eight sites within Greenwich monthly for one year. To obtain information on farm size and shellfish density, the team connected with local Greenwich oyster growers to understand how they use their commercial shellfish resource: how densely they grow their shellfish, are they grown directly on the seafloor or using gear, and what mortality rates they typically see.

Dixon notes that one of their sites was quite a bit different than the other seven. “There were differences in these small bodies of water as far as how efficient the oysters were feeding or what food was available to them and depending on what the farmer was doing on the site. Shellfish are able to remove more material if they’re there longer, there’s more of them, and if they’re larger.” The study results will give municipalities and shellfish harvesters data that could be used to participate in nutrient trading markets and provide a model for other coastal communities to follow.

The Importance of Building Trust, Relationships, and Partnerships

The Milford Lab has a long history of working with the shellfish aquaculture industry. “We have a model for developing these relationships that works really well. Our lab has a reputation for conducting applied research to address key questions important to the industry so there’s a trust that’s been developed over the years. For our academic colleagues, we’re all in the boat of dwindling resources so we need to work together.” said Dixon. “Working with the municipality, it’s communication and trust-building and it takes some time. You meet people at conferences, you read about what different towns are doing, and you make the connections and you make it work.”

Rose added, “I think identifying key local partners is really important for building a network of contacts. Working with the Greenwich Shellfish Commission made it possible for us to be able to do the level of detailed work that we did. They provided us with access to local sampling sites, knowledge of their local shellfish resource, connections to industry members and connections to other municipal agencies. We could not have done this research without that key local partnership.”

Rose also said that bringing together groups of people who don’t normally interact with one another was valuable to the success of their study and making it a more integrated and comprehensive project. Dixon added, “We had very eager partners. A lot of that is testament to the individuals. We were fortunate to find industry partners who were very enthusiastic. We were fortunate to have the town of Greenwich and their Shellfish Commission excited about their natural resources and being progressive in their viewpoints. And the project has benefited enormously from the modeling expertise provided by Suzanne Bricker, as well as the economic perspective provided by Anthony Dvarskas’ research contributions.”

Tips and Tricks for Building Partnerships

When asked how others can build strong, long-lasting partnerships Dixon said, “ It’s just leg work. Going out and doing it, make the phone calls, meet with people. Make sure everyone knows up front exactly what you want to do and why you’re doing it. It’s not just trusting that we’re going to show up when we say we’re going to show up, go home when we say we’re going to go home. The trust is why we’re doing this and why a partner should consider it something important that they should participate in.” Rose added “I think it’s important to set realistic expectations. Shellfish alone aren’t going to solve the eutrophication problems facing coastal communities. You can’t just build a single oyster reef or establish a new shellfish aquaculture industry and have a magic solution, but shellfish can be an important tool in the toolbox and make key contributions to improving water quality.”

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