Va. Aquaculture Survey shows growth in oysters, shift in clams

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Sales of Virginian-grown shellfish showed mixed response to the slowing economy, according to the "Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report" for 2009, released this summer. Plantings and projections of Virginia's oysters and clams were mixed in 2009.

"Declines in the overall economy negatively impacted Virginia clam sales nationwide in both the retail and food-service sectors," says Tom Murray, VIMS Marine Business Specialist and Leader of Virginia Sea Grant's Marine Extension Program. Murray and colleague Michael Oesterling have produced the "Report" annually since 2005.

"The decline in plantings mirrored this slackened demand while prices per unit stabilized during the year industry-wide," says Murray.

More positiviely, both planting and sales of oysters were up in 2009, while hatchery production and seed planting were lower than expected.  However, survey respondents reported significant advances in hatchery production, projecting a 3-fold or more increase in oyster seed production in 2010.

The number of Virginian-grown oysters sold exceeded expectations and were up by 26%. More than 12 million aquaculture oysters were sold in 2009. While more cultured oysters were sold in 2009, oyster seed planted was steady from 2008. Growers cited difficulty in hatchery production during 2009, which may have caused this dampened activity.

Meanwhile, clam sales were down in 2009, but a continued increase in hatchery activity may signify the industry's retooling. The number of Virginian-grown clams sold fell by 24% in 2009, dipping below 150 million and the lowest since the Survey began in 2005. Despite the 2009 decrease in clam sales, Virginia still leads the nation in production of farmed clams.  Clam sales were an estimated $ 21.7 million at the farm level with 90% sold out of state.  

Yet the decrease may be only temporary, as the industry appears to be on  an upward trend to produce more clam seed in Virginia. 2009 saw a 41% growth in clam seed sales by Virginia hatcheries, with nearly all that clam seed produced being sold to growers in-state, with most of that going toward the hatchery owner's own planting. In 2008, Virginia hatcheries produced about 20% of clams seed planted in the state that year. By 2009, hatcheries produced more than 40% of what was planted.

"Shellfish aquaculture activity is at a crossroads in Virginia," says Murray. "The industry is poised to significantly increase its current farm-gate value of $25 million over the next five years."

The "Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report" is produced annually by Virginia Sea Grant and Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

The complete report can be downloaded at