Ocean State Oyster Farming Takes Off

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Providence Journal: In 1996, Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry ranked last in the nation in acreage and production. Since then, the growth of the sector — primarily oyster farming — has been nothing short of extraordinary.

According to the most recent national data, in 2013 Rhode Island still ranked close to the bottom in terms of acreage — it’s a small state, after all — but cultivation and harvesting of native, high-value oysters had skyrocketed, moving the Ocean State up to 24th place in a comparison of sales, ahead of many inland states but also in front of South Carolina, Alaska and New Hampshire.

The latest report on the industry from the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council confirms that aquaculture is continuing to grow at a rapid pace. According to the 2014 annual report released last week, Rhode Island now has 55 farms, totaling 206.2 acres, with sales of $5.04 million.

Compare that with 1996 when the state had three farms with 9 acres in production and a paltry $91,499 in sales. That was the year when state officials decided they needed to do more to spur the industry. The General Assembly, through efforts led by Rep. Eileen Naughton, passed revamped legislation that created one-stop permitting at the CRMC. Soon, the agency would create a full-time position to help growers start operations.