Shellfish farming thriving in Virginia waters

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GLOUCESTER POINT—Virginia’s shellfish growers should be happy as clams this year. That’s because the Virginia Institute of Marine Science’s July 2018 Virginia Shellfish Aquaculture Situation and Outlook Report said the state’s aquaculture industry is thriving.

Hatchery oyster production is expected to be almost 42 million oysters this year, which is 8 percent higher than in 2017. Additionally, another 43,500 bushels of oysters produced outside of hatcheries is anticipated this year.  Clam production is predicted to rise 23 percent to 377 million clams.

Virginia clam and oyster growers range from hobbyists to major aquaculture operations, and all are hoping for a good year since harvest season begins in September.

“We’re going full bore right now,” shared Robert Bloxom Jr., an Accomack County Farm Bureau member who raises oysters on the Eastern Shore. “The seed that I got from Cherrystone Aquafarms this year was fantastic, the weather has been great and water temperatures have been lower than normal. It’s been a great growing season.”

Bloxom and his family started raising oysters as a hobby on the seaside of the Eastern Shore in the early ‘90s and discovered he had a knack for it.

“I finally admitted about four or five years ago that it’s a hobby that actually pays for itself,” Bloxom said. “Yes, I do spend quite a bit of time on the water, playing with oysters. It’s like farming. Not every year is great. When it’s good, it’s good; when its bad, it’s bad. You’re dealing with live animals and nature.”

While he used to sell his oysters directly to buyers, Bloxom now raises them under an agreement with Cherrystone. The company provides the oyster seed and sells the final product, and he handles production in the seaside waters adjacent to his land.

In 2017 the farm gate value for Virginia shellfish products was calculated to be $53.4 million, with $37.5 million from hard clams and $15.9 million from marketing oysters. Virginia is No. 1 in the U.S. for hard clam production, and first on the East Coast for oyster production. The 2018 outlook survey predicts future growth in Virginia’s oyster industry, although that is not necessarily good news, Bloxom said.

“When more people get in it, there’s more competition for Eastern Shore oysters,” he explained. “While I feel confident that my oysters will bring a premium price because of my location, oyster growing is not for the faint of heart. Lots of factors like bad weather, disease and all can hit your crop. But I find it interesting and fun.”

Media: Contact Bloxom at 757-710-2360 or Karen Hudson, VIMS shellfish aquaculture specialist, at 804-684-7742.

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