Nature Conservancy purchasing millions of surplus oysters to offset COVID-19 losses

The Nature Conservancy announced 21 October it plans to help struggling oyster farmers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by purchasing five million surplus oysters.

The oysters, according to a release from The Nature Conservancy, will be used in nearby oyster restoration projects in order to rebuild 27 acres of “imperiled native shellfish reefs.” Partnering on the initiative are The Pew Charitable Trusts, and the action is being coordinated with efforts taken by NOAA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Over the next two year, the initiative, dubbed the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) initiative, will pay USD 2 million (EUR 1.7 million) for oysters from more than 100 shellfish companies. The funds will preserve, more than 200 jobs in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and Washington state, according to The Nature Conservancy. Those oysters will then be deployed in 20 restoration sites.

“This program demonstrates the potential for food producers and conservationists to work together and achieve critical outcomes for both people and nature,” The Nature Conservancy CEO Jennifer Morris said. “We are proud to partner with The Pew Charitable Trusts to provide much-needed economic relief for America’s shellfish farmers and support oyster restoration efforts. This is a win-win for environmentally-friendly businesses and ocean ecosystems.”

The new program will begin this month and will initially be offered to shellfish farming companies in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts; largely due to the impending winter season, which will hamper farming operations and “reef development.”

Later on, the program will be extended to farms in New York, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington state, into the winter of 2021.

The project will purchase “oversized” oysters that have grown to large for the raw bar market and restaurants. Plummeting demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic causing restaurant closures and even bankruptcies has also caused oyster prices to drop, leaving oyster farmers in a precarious financial situation.

“Ensuring the aquaculture industry endures through these challenges is in the interest of the conservation community,” The Nature Conservancy Global Lead for Aquaculture Robert Jones said. “Our aquaculture program has built compelling evidence for the ecological contribution of shellfish farms to the surrounding environment, demonstrating that they can reduce excess nutrients in coastal waterways and provide habitat for wild finfish and crustaceans.”

Shellfish farmers welcomed the news, calling it a boon for both environmentalists and aquaculture operations.

“It is great that this program has come together at this time. The shellfish farming community has been struggling tremendously, and many folks are worrying about making it through the year,” East Coast Shellfish Growers Association Executive Director Bob Rheault said. “This program will allow growers to clear some over-grown product off their leases, put some needed money in their pockets, and provide environmental benefits to our coastal waters. It’s a win, win, win!” 

Photo courtesy of Rabbitti/Shutterstock


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