The UW School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences (SAFS) is home to some of the world's leading experts in shellfish biology, genetics, and disease ecology. Faculty and students are actively engaged in applied research to inform and improve shellfish aquaculture and restoration. Shellfish aquaculture is major economic driver in Washington and the Pacific Northwest region, supporting over 3,200 jobs and contributing over $270 million per year to rural and coastal economies (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/water/marine/oa/2012report_summary.pdf). Shellfish aquaculture, in turn, has been shown to improve local water quality via the filter-feeding of cultured organisms, while simultaneously creating habitat for other aquatic species.
The UW Shellfish Farm represents a unique and exciting opportunity for students to experience shellfish farming first-hand. Consequently, the proposal has been enthusiastically endorsed by the College of the Environment, and has brought in advisory expertise from SAFS, the School of Marine & Environmental Affairs (SMEA), Department of Biology, and notably the shellfish industry. In 2014, with a generous grant from the UW Campus Sustainability Fund, we began work on Phase I, a feasibility study for the Farm. A majority of grant monies supported a graduate Research Assistant from the UW SMEA, who has incorporated this work into a Masters thesis. The feasibility study has thus far produced the following: 1) A guideline to the regulatory and permitting requirements for shellfish aquaculture in WA; 2) Thorough cost-benefit analysis of multiple options for structuring an aquaculture enterprise, including formal partnership(s) with a non-university industry stakeholder; 3) A live blog (http://www.uwshellfishfarm.wordpress.com) highlighting our progress and challenges as we navigate the planning process. We are on track to complete Phase I by the end of Spring quarter and to deliver a final report with recommendations for implementation.
As we prepare for Phase II - Implementation, a next step will be to get shellfish deployed at Big Beef Creek (BBC) to optimize conditions for successful production. Local variation in environmental conditions like dissolved oxygen, salinity/freshwater input, and algal growth, may significantly impact aquaculture yield and product quality. These conditions are known to vary latitudinally in Hood Canal, but more importantly may vary even within the 9.7 acre tideland parcel at BBC.
We propose to growout three shellfish species: 1) Pacific Geoduck (Panopea generosa); 2) Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas); and 3) Manila clam (Tapes phillipinarum), at multiple sites across the BBC tideland parcel. These three species are viable options for commercial-scale aquaculture once the Farm is permitted. This pilot grow-out will provide essential information for potential partnerships. Funds will be used to purchase culture supplies (re-usable cages), seed and support a graduate student to grow-out shellfish at BBC. In addition, a graduate student would continue to enable the establishment of a sustainable farm by continuing with the permitting processes and developing educational outreach material.
Methods: In addition to finalizing the final logistical aspects of establishing a shellfish farm, shellfish seed will be planted at multiple sites across the BBC tideland using methods appropriate to each species. Planting will be done in replicate arrays within each site. Monitoring and sampling will be conducted at regular intervals, recording ambient environmental conditions as well as shellfish growth and survival. This activity will be critical in meeting our educational goals.
Environmental Impact: Shellfish aquaculture is sustainable as it requires no food inputs; shellfish derive nutrients by filtering phytoplankton from the water column. As such, shellfish aquaculture is intrinsically linked to estuarine health. Regular sampling of environmental conditions at BBC over the course of this project will inform the development of an environmental monitoring system for estuarine health, as detailed in our initial CSF proposal (as part of Phase II). Data from our monitoring program will be used for education and will be incorporated into developing appropriate partnerships to make the shellfish farm a success.