For decades, Maryland has been tracking the health of the Chesapeake Bay including the levels of nutrient input, habitat health, native species numbers, and in turn, implementing best management practices to maximize positive impact. Shellfish aquaculture plays a significant role in ensuring healthy watersheds and the Bay, with proven results in removing harmful nutrients to help maintain ecosystem health while providing an economic resource to the community.
University of Maryland Extension (UME) researchers are at the forefront of this work, which is now incorporated into a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries global study to assess the benefits of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture for ecosystem health and local economies.
“We’re on the leading edge of nutrient management in Maryland,” said Matt Parker, UME aquaculture business specialist who participated in the study. “Our work can help other places really hone in on using aquaculture to help remediate and maintain ecosystem health.”
As a part of the international collaboration with NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, University of Melbourne and University of Adelaide in Australia, and Mississippi State University, Parker and colleague Suzanne Bricker of NOAA’s Cooperative Oxford Laboratory, reviewed over 50 scientific papers, including their own, for relevant data quantifying benefits of oyster aquaculture, not only to ecosystems, but also the benefits to people and the local economy. Their data sets were combined with other global statistics and synthesized by Luke Barrett of the University of Melbourne.
The study, published in Elsevier’s Ecosystem Services in February 2022, gives an assessment of worldwide shellfish and seaweed aquaculture data, and how those systems help improve water quality and the economy. “It shows we’re not alone – this is a worldwide issue that people are starting to pay attention to,” Parker said.
Shellfish and seaweed farms provide sources of sustainably produced seafood, according to the press release distributed by NOAA, and can potentially mitigate the costs of other nutrient removal methods such as buffer areas or stormwater retention ponds. Aquaculture farms also provide habitats for other native species, helping to stimulate fish populations, which can lead to additional income streams.
“Every place is going to be a little different based on the species of oysters, nutrient load, and other factors,” said Parker, whose research in sustainable oyster aquaculture and water quality is published in peer-reviewed publications like the Journal of Shellfish Research. “But this type of work might be able to help places like underdeveloped countries think about using oyster aquaculture as something that they could do that would be beneficial for the environment, and provide jobs and income.”
“This work really showed that aquaculture is valuable as another tool to remediate nutrients in water bodies,” Parker said. “Hopefully some of the things we’ve done here can help spur others on to develop their own aquaculture systems. We can help with a global issue using our research here in the Bay region.”