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Aquaculture initiative seeks to ‘grow the industry’

A $1.4 million federal grant secured by U.S. Sen. Jack Reed will help the aquaculture industry gain a firmer footing in Rhode Island. The grant will be used to develop, promote, and manage a viable aquaculture presence in the state.

The Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative is a unique collaboration that unites federal and state interests as well as academic, regulatory, and industry resources. The initiative is appropriating the $1.4 million to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), the state’s lead regulatory agency for aquaculture, with CRMC enlisting Rhode Island Sea Grant, the University of Rhode Island, and Roger Williams University to administer the grant.

“With the technical knowledge and investment in research by Sea Grant, URI, and Roger Williams, and with their close work with the fishing industry, Rhode Island has great potential to become a leader in the aquaculture industry in the Northeast,” Reed said.

Major components of the proposed program reflect a focus on research and technological development that has characterized past university-industry endeavors. One component is support for applied research to address industry priorities, including cultivation of alternative species, development of monitoring and marketing innovations, evaluation of environmental and economic impacts, and enhancement of comprehensive ocean mapping efforts.

A second key element is creation of two extension positions, one specializing in finfish culture and the other in shellfish culture. This extension function will ensure integrated, statewide outreach to support the industry with technical assistance and training, demonstration projects, species diversification, and market development.

“We have been doing the basic science in this field for many years, and this grant will help that insight and knowledge get dispersed throughout the state,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers.

The initiative builds on a tradition of collaboration and networking between the universities “to capitalize on the vast intellectual and scientific capacity in this state for all things marine and coastal,” said state Rep. Eileen Naughton, a long-time champion of aquaculture in Rhode Island.

By providing a knowledge-based foundation for industry development, the aquaculture initiative opens a range of opportunities in both the science and the business of aquaculture, observed Barry Costa-Pierce, Rhode Island Sea Grant director.

“Because of the state’s small size and the intensity of existing coastal resource uses, Rhode Island may never become a major producer in terms of quantity,” he acknowledged. However, he said, the state can offer world-class talent in aquaculture to assert leadership and bolster the national and international industry with applied science, business, marketing, education, and training services.

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