Massachusetts Aquaculture Strategic Plan Chapter I - Introduction
What Is Aquaculture?
On a technical level, aquaculture is defined as "the manipulation of marine or freshwater
organisms and/or their environment before eventual release, harvest, or capture; the controlled
cultivation and harvest of aquatic animals and plants" (USDA National Aquaculture
Development Plan, 1983). On the popular level, however, aquaculture is sometimes referred
to as "fish farming." For the purposes of this Strategic Plan, the term "aquaculture" will
include all aspects of the technical definition and will discuss the industry and science as a
"Marine aquaculture" or "inland aquaculture" will be used to differentiate between the location
and nature of the type of aquaculture. "Marine aquaculture" includes structures (trays, pens,
enclosures, nets, etc.) that are located in or on unaltered marine waters. "Inland aquaculture"
includes facilities on land including, in some cases, freshwater wetlands. Inland aquaculture
utilizes ponds, tanks, and enclosures that are dependent upon the culturist for maintenance of
water quality, food supply, and waste removal. Certain facilities and culturing technologies
that do not fit squarely within either category will be identified throughout this Plan.
Examples of aquaculture that involves both inland and marine components are: the culture
of anadromous and catadromous species, hatcheries, and recirculating systems that withdraw
from and discharge into marine waters.
When the term "aquaculture" is used in this Plan it includes both public and private
operations. There is widespread interest in the Commonwealth in both privately owned and
operated aquaculture activities, as well as enhancement and propagation efforts that will
augment recreational and commercial harvests. In addition, this Plan advocates public/private
What Is the Purpose of the Aquaculture Strategic Plan?
The economic realities of the fisheries declines coupled with the economic opportunities
associated with increased demand for fish and fish products means that the interest in
aquaculture is growing rapidly. While many other states and nations have taken steps to
support aquaculture in their jurisdictions, Massachusetts has lagged behind. Currently, there
are a myriad of regulatory and legal impediments to the development of a successful
aquaculture industry in the Commonwealth. Now is the time, therefore, to break down these
barriers and ensure that aquaculture can be effectively pursued in this state.
The Aquaculture Strategic Planning process marks the first coordinated effort to support
aquaculture in Massachusetts. The Strategic Plan represents the foundation for addressing the
complex, multifaceted issues associated with aquaculture and removing unnecessary
impediments to the aquaculture industry. This effort represents a five year planning process
and will build a long-term structure for aquaculture development. The Strategic Plan is not
intended to "solve" all aquaculture related issues now, but rather it is designed to chart a
course for identifying key issues and solving problems in a cooperative and comprehensive
What Is the Aquaculture Strategic Planning Approach?
In December of 1994, Governor William F. Weld requested that the Executive Office of
Environmental Affairs (EOEA) initiate a strategic planning process to investigate the potential
for aquaculture in Massachusetts and determine why the Commonwealth lags so far behind
many of our neighboring states in this industry. Governor Weld further directed EOEA to
put together broad-based, but focussed, Working Groups to craft recommendations on how
the State can overcome some of the constraints that aquaculture faces in Massachusetts.
In response to the Governor's request, Secretary Trudy Coxe organized three Working
Groups: the Regulatory Reform Working Group, the Environmental Review Working
Group, and Economic Development Working Group. These groups met regularly for the first
half of 1995 and initiated a strategic planning process, which included site visits to aquaculture
facilities, discussions with industry and potential aquaculturists, international literature reviews,
four regional public meetings, and over 40 working meetings. The recommendations
developed by the Working Groups are found in Chapters 2, 3, 4 and 5.
To provide oversight and direction to the Working Groups, a broad based Aquaculture
Steering Committee comprised of representatives from private industry, academia, government,
the Legislature, and the restaurant trade was formed. The Steering Committee met monthly
with the Chairs of the Working Groups.
If the recommendations included in this Plan are successfully implemented, it is projected that
by the year 2000 Massachusetts could realize:
- An increase in marine acreage under commercial shellfish cultivation from 645 acres (1994) to
- An increase in full and part-time aquaculture jobs from 131 today to 740.
- An increase in farm gate value of shellfish from approximately $4 million (Bush and Anderson,
1992) to $27 million.
- An increase in farm gate value of finfish produced in inland facilities from approximately $4
million (Bush and Anderson, 1992) to $16 million.
- An increase in farm gate value of shellfish and finfish produced in offshore facilities from zero
today to $2 million.
- A total farm gate production increase from $8 million (NRAC, 1992) to $45 million.
What Is the Status of the Aquaculture Industry in Massachusetts?
Managed cultivation of shellfish and crustaceans in Massachusetts originated with the native
Americans and was adopted by the early settlers on Cape Cod. It was not until the 1970's
and 1980's, however, that efficient and viable hatchery and grow-out techniques were proven
effective on a larger, commercial scale.
Today, aquaculture in Massachusetts is estimated to be about an $8 million dollar industry
(Bush and Anderson, 1993). The industry is roughly split between inland and marine
aquaculture in terms of economic value. The inland industry is comprised primarily of a
handful of highly technical recirculating facilities located primarily in the western part of the
state (with one on Cape Cod). These facilities produce hybrid striped bass, tilapia, trout, and
other finfish. The marine aquaculture industry in Massachusetts mainly produces quahogs
(hard clams) and oysters, with small quantities of scallops, soft shell clams, and mussels. The
marine aquaculture industry is concentrated on Cape Cod and the Islands with some producers
on the South and Southeastern Shores.
Put in perspective, the Massachusetts aquaculture industry is small. Worldwide Total
Aquaculture Production in 1992 is estimated to be $32.5 billion (FAO, 1995). The U.S. Total
Aquaculture Production in 1993 was over $810 million (NMFS, 1995). In the Northeast
Region in 1992, Massachusetts was the fifth largest aquaculture producing state after
Connecticut ($61.7 million), Maine ($42.9 million), Pennsylvania ($11.9 million), and New
York ($9.6 million) (NRAC, 1993).
What Is the Potential for Aquaculture in Massachusetts?
Without a doubt, Massachusetts enjoys a competitive advantage for aquaculture in terms of
access to fresh and marine waters, excellent port and processing facilities, world class research
institutions, a highly educated work force, and established markets and distributions links.
Despite the factors that inhibit aquaculture in the state (i.e., a highly developed coastline,
multiple competing uses of the coast, a redundant regulatory system, legal issues, and a
misunderstanding of aquaculture by the public and the fishing industry) our state clearly has
the potential to support a thriving aquaculture industry.
The potential for aquaculture to expand in the Commonwealth is dependent on several
considerations. This Plan is meant to overcome some of the anthropogenic constraints, such
as regulatory framework, business climate, public acceptability, and user conflicts. Other,
more environmental constraints, such as tidal range, exposure, biological parameters, flushing
rates, and temperature are not easily overcome. On balance, however, Massachusetts has the
potential to weigh in as an extremely competitive location for aquacultural activity.
Why Should the State Support this Industry?
Fish, fishing, and fishermen are deeply rooted in Massachusetts' history and traditions. In fact,
when the settlers came to Massachusetts, our eastern-most shores were named Cape Cod
because of the abundance of fish. Today, however, many of our traditional groundfish stocks
have been severely depleted. Aquaculture is a means to continue our fishing traditions in the
face of declining wild fish stocks. The harvesting of wild stocks can not be sustained at the
levels experienced in recent decades. Aquaculture can be used to augment the wild harvest,
which will undoubtedly be fished at lower intensities than in the past.
When sited and managed properly, aquaculture is an environmentally compatible industry that
requires consistently high water quality. By encouraging aquaculture, the Commonwealth can
enjoy a diversified economy in areas of limited year-round employment while ensuring the
protection of a critical resource -- water quality. The success of aquaculture is, in many ways,
dependent on enhanced and sustained water quality. It is essential that local, state and federal
resources continue to be mobilized at controlling both point and non-point sources of
Aquaculture in its many manifestations offers jobs ranging from the highly technical to the
basic and supports numerous spin-off and support industries. The aquaculture industry and
the jobs it creates are also sustainable, which means that aquaculture activities, if implemented
using good husbandry practices, can be carried on indefinitely. Aquaculture products can also
assist in diversifying the fresh fish available to consumers, wholesalers and retail markets.
The Need for Balance
The Commonwealth recognizes the need to support aquaculture in a manner that is
compatible with the other existing uses of Massachusetts' waters and uplands. Specifically,
diverse needs (such as private property rights, public access, the wild fishery, navigation, and
recreation) that aquaculture will compete with must be analyzed. Without question,
aquaculture must be balanced with other compatible activities. A balance can be struck,
however, because all these activities have much in common -- and most importantly, they all
require sustained high water quality.
Rather than being a divisive issue, aquaculture in Massachusetts can function as an opportunity
to galvanize disparate interests to work toward common goals including: diversified,
sustainable economies for isolated rural areas, both inland and marine; remediation of
contaminated areas; improved viability of non-productive areas; minimized upland sources of
point and nonpoint pollution; and education of our children on the value of a healthy
ecosystem that can support renewable natural resource-based food production.
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Published: September 1995