Sustainable Shellfish Aquaculture (Phase 2): Engaging Students and Public in Marine Conservation

Executive Summary:

The UW Shellfish Farm concept is a collaborative effort between students and faculty from the UW School of Aquatic & Fishery Sciences (SAFS), School of Marine & Environmental Affairs (SMEA), and Department of Biology, along with Taylor Shellfish Inc. and other shellfish industry stakeholders. We seek to establish a student-run shellfish farm at the Big Beef Creek Research Station, a SAFS field site on Hood Canal. The current proposal is to conduct an aquaculture research trial at the Big Beef Creek Research Preserve (BBC), where the farm will eventually be located. This project will provide critical biological information on optimal conditions for shellfish aquaculture that will inform and implementation.

The successful implementation of the UW Shellfish Farm concept depends on characterizing intertidal areas at BBC that exhibit optimal environmental conditions for shellfish growth. To that end, our team will deploy three different shellfish species at multiple sites at BBC, monitoring growth, survival, and environmental conditions over the course of one year. Campus Sustainability Funds will be used to purchase necessary culture supplies (e.g. re-usable cages) and shellfish seed, and will support students to conduct the grow-out of shellfish at BBC. A student will also continue the ongoing permitting process initiated in Phase I, assist in developing educational outreach material, and use the data generated to initiate a long-term environmental monitoring program. Involved students will gain firsthand knowledge and skills required to operate a shellfish aquaculture business.

Student Involvement:

The current proposal seeks funding to support a SAFS or SMEA graduate student. The work may be readily incorporated into a Masters thesis. The student will work closely with project coordinators to achieve the following goals:

  1. Assist in the design of an appropriate pilot-scale aquaculture trial based on known physical features of the Big Beef Creek tideland area.
  2. Coordinate with shellfish industry partners (Taylor Shellfish Inc., Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Hama Hama Inc.) to obtain necessary shellfish “seed” and growout equipment; install as necessary.
  3. Monitor growth and survival at regular intervals (2x/mo.); collect environmental data and publish to online portal (Figshare, Github, Shellfish farm blog).
  4. Continue ongoing efforts to obtain necessary permits for commercial shellfish aquaculture, seafood handling and sales as detailed in our initial proposal (Phase I). Coordinate with State agencies and UW legal office as necessary.
  5. Produce final report to SAFS and the Project team with growout results and recommendations for aquaculture site and species.

Education & Outreach:

As outlined in our initial proposal, we envision the UW Shellfish Farm achieving the following outreach and educational goals:

  1. Partner with UW academic departments (i.e. SAFS, SMEA, Biology) to integrate Farm visits into academic course curricula and student research opportunities (i.e. capstone projects). FISH 404 (Sustainable Aquaculture) is one example of an upper-level undergraduate course that, through field trips, provides students with unique exposure to a variety of aquatic farms and hatcheries in Washington.
  2. Develop outreach materials regarding sustainable aquaculture, estuarine biodiversity, marine pathogens, and the impacts of ocean acidification on marine invertebrates.
  3. Lead seminars for the UW community and general public.
  4. Train student leaders to assume roles as environmental educators.
  5. Provide a suitable space for ongoing and future shellfish research by graduate and undergraduate researchers at UW. **Note that the current proposal does not seek funding for research, nor does it directly benefit the applicants’ current research projects.

The current proposal directly addresses CSF Goal #2, the development of outreach and educational materials. Funds requested will support a graduate student tasked with the aforementioned, using the Farm as a model system. Summaries/analyses of environmental data collected as part of our pilot project will be incorporated into educational material, demonstrating seasonal patterns and anomalies in water quality and their interaction with shellfish growth and survival. We aim to promote these materials via our website (currently hosted at and in person at local and regional workshops and conferences. 

Environmental Impact:
  • Food
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
  • Water
Project Longevity:

Based on our current feasibility analysis, a goal is to partner with experienced shellfish growers such that a UW Shellfish Farm would be self-sustainable with limited UW support. We plan to have details of this worked out by the end of the summer.

Environmental Problem:

By establishing an example of sustainable shellfish aquaculture, the UW Shellfish Farm aims to turn students’ attentions to the important question: “Where does our seafood come from?” Today, over 90% of seafood consumed in the US is imported, often with no inspection for quality or proper labeling. With many foreign fisheries underregulated, in decline, and potentially overfished, an increasing proportion of U.S. consumers recognize the importance of choosing “sustainably-sourced” seafood items. Shellfish aquaculture stands out as a seafood production system that, when properly conceived, poses minimal negative impact to natural systems. Bivalve shellfish provide ecosystem services including benthic-pelagic coupling, nitrogen sequestration, creation of biogenic habitat, and biofiltration. For example, a single oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day. Through aquaculture efforts, enhanced shellfish populations result in reductions in turbidity, reduced nitrogenous wastes, and improved habitat for invertebrates and juvenile fish. 

The current proposal seeks to provide pilot-scale information on the potential for aquaculture activities at Big Beef Creek that will inform the design of a full-scale commercial aquaculture operation. Specifically, we will measure the growth and survival (yield) of three species: 1) Pacific geoduck (Panopea generosa); 2) Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas); and 3) Manila clam (Ruditapes philippinarum) at multiple, replicate sites across the Big Beef Creek tideland parcel. These species are among the primary shellfish aquaculture products in Washington State, and represent possible species to grow at the UW Shellfish Farm once permitted. In addition to basic data on yield, we will routinely monitor environmental parameters including salinity, temperature, pH/pCO2, and dissolved oxygen. This is discussed in more detail in the next section.

We aim to connect students with the theory and practice of sustainable cultivation of shellfish. Because these animals acquire their food by filtering the water, the success of a shellfish aquaculture venture depends, in large part, on the health of the estuary in which they are raised. By working on the water, students will become intimately acquainted with the Big Beef Creek estuary and the environmental factors that affect it. 

Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The UW Shellfish Farm will contribute directly and indirectly to environmental conservation. First, the intensive production of shellfish will improve water quality conditions at Big Beef Creek. In Puget Sound, production of single Pacific oysters for the half-shell market using traditional on-bottom methods typically yields approximately 240,000 oysters per acre with a biomass of about 36,000 pounds. Over a two-year harvest cycle, approximate production is thus 18,000 pounds per acre per year. Depending on the outcome of the proposed assessment of habitat suitability, the UW Shellfish Farm could be scaled to several acres within the 9.7-acre Big Beef Tidelands.

Our initial proposal includes the development of an environmental monitoring program to quantify the impacts of the shellfish farm on water quality in Big Beef Creek. Specifically, we aim to monitor salinity, temperature, pH/pCO2, and dissolved oxygen  in the estuary. The current proposal will provide valuable intra-annual environmental data as we conduct shellfish culture trials  at the site. These data will guide the development of an ongoing monitoring program. Environmental data from our monitoring program will inform UW research, and will be made available to the scientific community and general public.

There is both precedent and ongoing interest in establishing environmental monitoring at Big Beef Creek. From 2009-2011, Big Beef Creek was one of several sites in Puget Sound at which researchers sampled oyster populations and water quality to better understand the relationship between environment and organism health. Several research products resulted from this effort, known as PROPS (Physiological Response of Oysters in Puget Sound, Future data collected from monitoring at BBC, as in PROPS, can readily aid resource managers, policy makers, and scientists in assessing remediation efforts, restoration activities, and allow for informed predictions of risks associated with changes in habitat quality. The Big Beef Creek estuary is also currently a priority site for the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Project (; positive attention created by implementing the farm may make the site more desirable for further conservation efforts.

Direct impacts of the shellfish farm can also be quantified through the number of students that: 1) participate in environmental outreach and education programs on the farm, 2) utilize the farm for capstone research, and 3) volunteer to work on the farm. As of Spring 2015, there are approximately 400 students participating in SAFS, Marine Biology and SMEA undergraduate and graduate programs, and hundreds more involved in other academic programs within the College of the Environment. The potential for diverse student involvement is extremely high. 

Specific questions:

  • Is the shellfish going to be sold on campus? To whom? Housing and Food Services? At what cost?  Not during this period
    • Is there potential for a revolving fund loan/return on investment mechanism? Yes
  • Who is overseeing the quality control/safety of the shellfish to eat? As of now, no shellfish will be consumed.
  • Is there a way for more student involvement and engagement? Yes, addtional UW students will be included in the monitoring described in this proposal. 
  • Is there a Phase III, or is this the end goal for now? We see this as the last bridge prior to discussing a partnership. During the current quarter there will a number of discussions on how to best proceed. The end goal is to have a functional UW Shellfish Farm. The current proposal is intended to provide essential biological and practical information on how to get to our end goal of a functional UW Shellfish Farm. 
Total amount requested from the CSF: $24,872
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
Graduate Student Support11,936 per quarter223872
Cages, bags, stakes, supplies5001500

Non-CSF Sources:

Project Completion Total:


TaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
Outplant shellfish2 weeksSeptember 2016
Monitor shellfishMonthlyMay 2017
Determine mechanism to implement farm3 monthsOctober 2016