Virginia’s seafood economy hits USD 1 billion mark, gets federal investment

A basket of oysters harvested in Virginia.

Virginia’s seafood economy has an estimated annual value of more than USD 1 billion (EUR 930 million), according to a new study.

Among all U.S. states, Virginia ranks fourth in seafood landings, with the value of its seafood products exceeding USD 200 million (EUR 186.2 million) in 2020. The state is also one of the top producers of oysters along the U.S. East Coast.

According to a December 2022 report from the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech University, in 2019, seafood businesses helped general an economic impact of more than USD 1.1 billion (EUR 1 billion) statewide and were responsible for nearly 7,200 jobs and more than USD 26 million (EUR 24.2 million) in state tax payments.

Extension Center Seafood Economist Jonathan van Senten said the center worked with key stakeholders in gathering the data for the report, enabling a more-accurate accounting of the exponential impact the seafood industry has on other businesses across the state.

“And our results are conservative,” van Senten said. “The assessment covers the production, processing, and distribution sectors of the Virginia seafood industry, but it did not include retail and restaurant services or the spillover benefits to economies outside Virginia.”

Further bolstering Virginia’s seafood industry was an announcement in early January that a key Virginia fishing hub, Newport News, has received a federal grant aimed at improving the infrastructure of the Newport News Seafood Industrial Park.

The U.S. Economic Development Administration’s grant of USD 640,994 (EUR 596,835) will help the city and the Hampton Roads area strengthen their ties to the seafood industry, according to Newport News Director of Development Florence Kingston. Kingston told Seafood Source on Tuesday, 10 January, the funding will support design work for a new market at the park. It’s a project that’s also connected to a U.S. Housing and Urban Development neighborhood revitalization grant the city recently received.

“The vision for the facility is that it will be a neighborhood amenity and attraction that takes advantage of the existing seafood-related business in the Seafood Industrial Park and expands access to fresh food, while supporting food entrepreneurship,” Kingston said.

The funding will also cover collecting sediment samples and design work to dredge the northern end of the harbor and also replace moorings for small boats. Kingston said that will help commercial fishermen gain easier access to the park and also “provide scenic harbor access” for the market.

In a statement, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development Alejandra Y. Castillo said the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden seeks to create “new opportunities for businesses and workers across the country” and the grant, which will be matched by a local contribution of USD 200,000 (EUR 186,235) to support “food-based entrepreneurship in this historically underserved community.”

In addition to the grant project, the Virginia coastal city also plans to pour millions of dollars into other improvements at the port as part of a separate project.

According to Newport News’ capital improvement plan, the city expects to spend USD 6.9 million (EUR 6.4 million) over the next five years on the 39-acre site that’s home to more than 70 ocean-faring trawlers and 20 inshore boats.

Newport News touts the Seafood Industrial Park as a facility that ranks among the nation’s top ports for the value of seafood landed there. In recent years, though, the value of seafood landed in the region has decreased.     

In 2021, NOAA Fisheries reported the Hampton Roads Area port landed just 10.2 million pounds of seafood, the lowest amount reported by the port since the federal agency started recording landing totals in 1981. The value of those landings, at USD 42.3 million (EUR 39.4 million), was the lowest it has been since 1999.

In 2020, landings in the region were valued at USD 49.5 million (EUR 46.1 million), ranking the port 17th nationally, but down nearly USD 7 million (EUR 6.5 million) from 2019, when the Hampton Roads Area came in 14th.

Virginia leaders said they were happy to see the federal government invest in the Seafood Industrial Park. U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) called the industry “an important economic engine” for the state and city.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, said the funding will help bolster the state’s status as a national leader for seafood production.

“Virginians depend on our thriving seafood industry because it helps support our local economies,” he said. “I’m pleased that this grant will enable the Newport News Seafood Industrial Park to make structural updates to their accommodations, enhancing the support it provides the seafood industry.”

Photo courtesy of Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research and Extension Center at Virginia Tech


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