Survey shows growth in VA clam, oyster aquaculture

Virginia produces more farmed clams than any other state," says Tom Murray, Marine Business Specialist for Virginia Sea Grant. "But unlike traditional farm crops like corn or wheat, there has been no consistent long-term effort to track economic trends in shellfish aquaculture.”

To address this lack of economic data, Murray and Aquaculture Specialist Mike Oesterling began surveying Virginia clam and oyster farmers three years ago. This year's survey, covering the 2007 calendar year, documents continuing growth in both industries. More than 211 million farmed clams were sold in Virginia last year—up 9 percent from an estimated 2006 sale of 194 million clams. About 4.8 million farmed oysters went to market in 2007—up from 3.1 million in 2006 and 840,000 in 2005.

"The limiting factor for the growth of oyster farming is the availability of oyster seed from hatcheries," says Oesterling. "The farmers we surveyed projected a 14 percent increase in seed production in 2008, and an increase in market oyster sales to 7.3 million."

Clam farmers also reported a 22 percent increase in the number of full-time jobs in their industry from 2006 to 2007, and a 14 percent increase in part-time employment. These numbers are significant, say Murray and Oesterling, especially for the economically depressed Eastern Shore communities where many of the state’s shellfish aquaculture operations are based.