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Cultivation of marine and freshwater organisms
Aquaculture beds

Aquaculture is the rearing of aquatic animals or the cultivation of aquatic plants for food. The cultivation of marine and freshwater organisms is a very diverse segment of the Massachusetts agriculture industry. We produce aquatic species for food, education, ornamental decoration, and bait/fishing activities. There are 6 species of shellfish and 10 species of finfish that are cultivated specifically for sport fishing activities.

The Aquaculture Program, located within the Division of Agricultural Conservation and Technical Assistance, fosters the development of marine life and the aquaculture industry by attempting to implement the Massachusetts Aquaculture Strategic Plan.

The Southeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (SEMAC) contracted with the UMASS Center for Marketing Research to conduct an economic survey of the aquaculture industry in Massachusetts; sampling results are below:

  • The output of the shellfish aquaculture industry in Massachusetts was valued at approximately $25.4 million in 2013, which in turn generated approximately $45.5 million in the Massachusetts economy
  • Shellfish farmers were responsible for approximately 909 jobs
  • Shellfish farmers paid approximately $11.9 million in wages in 2013. Their economic activity generated additional labor income of $8.2 million, for a total of approximately $20.1 million in labor income for shellfish farmers in MA

Aquaculture Education

Education is an important part of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Development plan. Aquaculture education generates appropriately targeted research, encourages workforce development, promotes public awareness, and cultivates potential aquaculturists. In Massachusetts, where public and municipal entities often have bearing over aquaculture project development, public awareness is especially critical toward aquaculture development.

With the importance of education in mind, there are a number of efforts to promote academic and public education opportunities. Relationships enable strong collaboration and sharing of resources with the Aquaculture Centers, SEMACNEMAC, and WMCSA. These organizations facilitate education for the public about aquaculture and keeping the industry current with new technology.

Aquaculture Industry

Although the cultivation of aquatic species (specifically shellfish and crustaceans) was practiced by the Native Americans and later by the colonists on Cape Cod,

The cultivation of aquatic species, specifically shellfish and crustaceans, was practiced by the Native Americans and later by the colonists on Cape Cod. It was not until the 1970's when more efficient cultivation techniques were developed so that commercial cultivation could begin in Massachusetts.

Since that time, aquaculture has grown to include more than 15 species of fish and shellfish that are cultivated for food, research, biomedical, sport, and ornamental purposes.

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries reported that the Massachusetts shellfish aquaculture industry generated more than $6.2 million in 2006. At that time, there were more than 350 individuals and companies involved in aquaculture in Massachusetts. Nearly 300 of these are marine shellfish culture enterprises growing primarily Quahogs and American oysters.

Massachusetts finfish growers produce a variety of species of finfish, including barramundi, tilapia, largemouth bass, black sea bass, brown bullhead, several species of trout, and several species of baitfish.

Although there are a number of institutions, organizations, and government entities involved in the Bay State’s aquaculture industry, the primary trade group working for the industry is the Massachusetts Aquaculture Association.

Permit Assistance / Regulatory Streamlining

Regulatory streamlining has often been cited as an effort that is crucial for continued, efficient development of aquaculture in the United States. Similarly, the Massachusetts Aquaculture White Paper and Strategic Plan recognized the need for streamlining the regulatory process in order to facilitate industry expansion. To that end a variety of recommendations aimed at providing permit assistance and simplifying the permit process were among the priority recommendations identified by the Plan.

With the above in mind a number of steps have been taken in an effort to facilitate the permitting of aquaculture facilities in Massachusetts. As a first step toward streamlining the permit process for aquaculture enterprises, the Massachusetts Aquaculture Permits Guidance Document was created.

The Permit Streamlining Sub-Committee of the Massachusetts Aquaculture Advisory Group determined that to examine how the permit process could be streamlined, all permits must be identified that may be applicable for any activity associated with any form of aquaculture. The Guidance Document identifies and defines all permits and regulatory authorities in Massachusetts according to four primary areas of regulatory concern:

  1. Species to be cultivated
  2. Water source utilized
  3. Structures required for facilities operations
  4. Water/waste discharged

This document also includes a checklist that can assist in identifying all permits that may be applicable for any aquaculture facility proposed for Massachusetts.

The Aquaculture Operation Description Form is a two-page "fill in the blank" form that, once completed, provides a snap shot description of the proposed project. The Description Form should be the starting place for the permitting of any aquaculture operation in Massachusetts. Submit the completed form to the Department of Agricultural Resources Aquaculture Specialist, and you will be directed to the appropriate regulatory agency for permit application materials.

More information about the permit process for aquaculture operations, please contact the Department’s Aquaculture Specialist at

Technical Assistance & Information Resources

Scientific research and old-fashioned ingenuity drive the Massachusetts aquaculture industry to develop new technology and culture methods.

With techniques constantly progressing, there are a number of technical and informational resources available. The Department of Agricultural Resources retains an aquaculture resource library that is available for review by appointment at the MDAR office in Boston.

Massachusetts is also fortunate to have three regional state aquaculture centers:

  • Southeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (SEMAC)
  • Northeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (NEMAC)
  • Western Massachusetts Center for Sustainable Aquaculture (WMCSA)

In addition to staff expertise at each of the centers, they also house a great deal of aquaculture information. SEMAC has established a number of satellite resource centers at regional public libraries throughout Southeastern Massachusetts . These centers are an excellent resource for technical outreach and industry support.