Food & Water Stories

SOAR: Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration

An oyster farmer wearing a mask holds oyster in hand, showing it to the camera.
Brian Gennaco of Virgin Oyster Company showing the camera an oyster as he readies his harvest to be added to a reef in Great Bay as part of The Nature Conservancy's Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program in Durham, New Hampshire. © ©2020 Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography

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Our Oyster Purchase Program Made Headlines.

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Oyster aquaculture in the United States provides jobs in coastal communities, provides a sustainable source of seafood and can help improve ocean health by providing habitat for fish and improving water quality. But, COVID-19 and the resulting restaurant closures have led to a dramatic decrease in demand for farmed shellfish, leaving oyster farmers across the country struggling to market their products.

This lack of demand has caused a growing surplus of oysters that are becoming oversized for the traditional “raw bar” market. This accumulating supply could lead to a potential collapse in oyster prices. Combined with growers’ loss of income from restaurant sales since March 2020, this puts more than 3,000 jobs in the oyster aquaculture industry at risk.

Supporting Oyster Farmers in Seven States We are working with partners to purchase more than 5 million surplus farmed oysters – unable to go to market because of the restaurant closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic – and using them in nearby oyster restoration projects.

Oysters are more than just a niche, higher-end food. A healthy adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water daily, removing excess nutrients and other pollutants in coastal waters, often caused by runoff of land-based agriculture. Multiply that by the hundreds of thousands of oysters forming a reef and the living water filtration service they provide can be significant. The reefs also help protect shorelines from erosion by serving as natural buffers against rising tides and hurricanes. But despite the many benefits they provide, oyster reefs are the most imperiled marine habitat on Earth. Globally, over 85% of oyster reefs have disappeared due to overharvesting, diseases and habitat modification.

But there’s a way to protect oysters and the benefits they provide and help oyster farmers impacted by the economic downturn. The Nature Conservancy is working with its partners to purchase more than 5 million surplus farmed oysters and use them in nearby oyster restoration projects—a win-win for these environmentally friendly businesses and for our ocean ecosystems.

Ensuring oyster aquaculture endures through these challenges has direct conservation benefits. Our research shows shellfish farms are good for nature, as they improve water quality and provide habitat for fish and crustaceans.

TNC’s Global Lead for Aquaculture
Two people in wetsuits and one in waterproof overalls stand on a dock looking at a map together.
Oyster Restoration & Recovery The Nature Conservancy's Alix Laferriere speaks with the staff of the Swell Oyster Company about the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program on the shores of Great Bay in Durham, New Hampshire. © 2020 Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography
Two watermen lean over the edge of a pontoon boat, while a large oyster cage hangs suspended from a crane .
Oyster Aquaculture Oyster farmer Tim Henry (right) (Bay Point Oyster Company) and his employee Ken Smaldone haul an oyster cage onto their pontoon boat at their farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire. © 2020 Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography
Two men dump oysters from a box into the water over the side of a barge.
Oyster Restoration Brian Gennaco (right) of the Virgin Oyster Company and an employee add oysters to a restoration reef as part of the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program. Great Bay in Durham, New Hampshire. © 2020 Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography
A man in waders and a sun hat walks in knee deep water holding a large bag of oysters in front of him.
Oyster Aquaculture Brian Gennaco, owner of the Virgin Oyster Company, harvests oysters from an oyster bag on his oyster farm in Little Bay in Durham, New Hampshire. © 2020 Jerry and Marcy Monkman/EcoPhotography

Created in collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts, U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) initiative aims to extend $2 million in payments to oyster farmers over the next two years. The program expects to support more than 100 shellfish companies and preserve over 200 critical jobs in northern New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Washington state. Simultaneously, over 5 million oysters will be deployed to rebuild 27 acres of imperiled native shellfish reefs across 20 restoration sites.

In early 2021, the initiative also established a Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund (Fund) in partnership with Pew, NOAA, state management agencies, and shellfish growers’ associations. The Fund aims to pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable U.S. shellfish industry that benefits the ocean and the communities which rely upon it. 

The Fund will extend $1 million in funding to shellfish growers and aligned organizations to further collaborative marine conservation efforts and increase economic opportunities for shellfish farming in the United States. To learn more about the initiative, please visit the Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund page.

Program Impact

  • 125 shellfish farming companies supported
  • Over 450 jobs sustained across seven states
  • Over 3.5 million oysters purchased
  • Nearly 40 acres of imperiled native shellfish reefs supported across 25 restoration sites
  • 37 Resiliency Fund projects selected across 16 coastal U.S. states

FAQ

  • In which states will oyster growers be eligible for the oyster purchase program?

    The SOAR-oyster purchase program will be deployed in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington State.

  • How did the partners select the states in which the oyster purchase program is deployed?

    The geographies identified represent a mix of grower need, restoration opportunity, gaps unaddressed by other similar programs and available funding in these states.

  • How many growers are likely to receive funding for the program?

    The aim is to extend funding to at least 100 shellfish growers in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Washington State. The total funding available for oyster purchase across all states is $2 million.

  • Will all growers in each of the above states be eligible for the program?

    We would like to make the program available to as many growers as possible in our target states; however, regulations reflecting biosecurity considerations will limit the shellfish growers that are able to move oysters to the permitted and “shovel-ready” restoration sites.

    TNC and Pew are working with state regulators and restoration practitioners to identify the growing areas that will be eligible for participation in each state to make this process is as transparent as possible.

    Recognizing that not all growers may participate, we will aim to ensure that growers ineligible for the shellfish purchase program will be considered for the Shellfish Resiliency Fund program, including those located in the Southeast and Gulf of Mexico.

  • What is the timeline for availability of the funding for the oyster purchase program?

    The Purchase Program for applications from growers in Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts opened October 1, 2020.

    We anticipate opening the New York, New Jersey and Maryland Program for application in November 2020.

    We anticipate opening the Washington State program for application by January 2021.

  • How will prices for purchased oysters be set?

    For the first East Coast phase of the program, TNC and Pew is consulting with the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association, state growers’ associations and/or aquaculture extension agents and state agencies to agree on appropriate prices.

    A price will be set on a state-by-state basis to reflect regional differences.  Different prices for different growing methods may be set (e.g. container vs bottom grown).

    Prices should be considered as dynamic and may be adjusted or adapted to reflect demand for the program.

    Several principles will guide pricing decisions:

    • Balancing a fair and meaningful price for farmers with conservation objectives to secure a reasonable volume of product for restoration activities, and the need to be judicious with donated funds.
    • Utilizing available market data and reported prices to justify pricing decisions.
    • Ensuring the program does not compete directly with the wholesale market.
    • Ensuring prices are comparable or consistent with other similar programs that may exist.
  • How many dollars’ worth of oysters will each grower be able to sell to the program?

    This will be assessed on a state-by-state basis. However, as a guiding principle, to ensure we reach as many eligible growers as possible, we aim to develop a fixed maximum sale price for any individual grower in a first round of program implementation. 

    If demand for the program among eligible growers has not been met by the round one purchase, a second round of purchases may be offered based on grower revenues and scaled to the remaining funds.

  • How will oysters be transported to oyster restoration sites?

    When practical and cost effective, TNC/Pew would prefer to extend funding to shellfish growers to transport product to the restoration site or specified drop-off area to provide additional cash flow to growers. Where this is not possible TNC/Pew will assist in arranging transport. Funding for transport is in addition to the $2 million allocated for oyster purchase.

    Since the cost of transport is highly dependent upon the specific circumstances of the restoration activity and location of the grower, these costs will be negotiated with growers on a case-by-case basis. Any remaining transport budget will be applied to additional oyster purchases.

  • When will the Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund program launch?

    On March 29, 2021, the Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund program will be accepting proposals for small awards (up to $20,000) targeted toward shellfish growers and large awards (up to $100,000) to address systemic issues facing the shellfish industry.  

    Click here to learn more about the Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund.

  • Is there a plan for the SOAR program to expand to other states and continue beyond 2021?

    The existing funding for the SOAR program is geographically limited and does not extend beyond 2021. Pew and TNC will work to leverage additional funds to address the greater impacts of COVID and extend the program into the future.

Resiliency Fund Press Release

Read the release

The SOAR Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund (Fund) aims to pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable U.S. shellfish industry that benefits the ocean and the communities which rely upon it. 

The Fund is built upon a recognition that ensuring the resilience of the U.S. shellfish aquaculture industry is in the interest of conservation. Responsibly managed shellfish farms can provide vital ecosystem services that benefit ocean health, and shellfish growers can be critical partners in conservation.

The Fund is extending $1 million in funding to shellfish growers and aligned organizations to further collaborative marine conservation efforts and increase economic opportunities for shellfish farming in the United States.

Formed in early 2021 under SOAR, the Fund is a partnership between TNC and The Pew Charitable Trusts, in collaboration with NOAA, NRCS, state management agencies and shellfish growers’ associations. The priorities for the Fund were established with the support of a diverse Steering Committee made up of representatives from government agencies, growers, aquaculture associations, academia, and NGOs.

The Fund offers small awards (up to $20,000) targeted toward shellfish growers and large awards (up to $100,000) to address systemic issues facing the shellfish industry.

2021 Small Award Recipients
State Business/organization Project Title
AK OceansAlaska Alaskan Shellfish Hatchery Intern Program-Expanding Tribal Capacity in Shellfish Mariculture
AK Spinnaker Sea Farms Growing Kelp for Economic and Species Diversity at Spinnaker Sea Farms
AL Alma Bryant High School Bryant Oyster Academy - Develop an oyster hatchery and educate students through the Bryant Oyster Academy
CA Bodega Bay Oyster Company Native Littleneck Clam Spawning, Nursing and Outgrowth in a Vertically Integrated System in Northern California
CA Hog Island Oyster Company Building Farm & Ecosystem Resilience with Native Olympia Oysters (Ostrea lurida) in Tomales Bay, CA
FL Florida Shellfish Aquaculture Association Florida Shellfish Aquaculture Association Executive Director Support
FL Indian River Oyster Company Enhancing shellfish aquaculture resilience through co-production of oysters and urchins
FL Serenoa Shellfish Exploring Secondary Uses for By-products of Off-bottom Oyster Aquaculture in Reef Restoration and Shoreline Stabilization Projects
FL The Florida Oyster Trading Company Pensacola Bay Oyster Aquaculture Ecosystem Services-Based Resiliency Initiative
GA E.L. McIntosh & Son Seafood Georgia Shellfish Aquaculture - Organize, setup and launch an Aquaculture pilot program in McIntosh County Academy
GA Shell to Shore Seabear “Shell to Shore” Oyster Shell Recycling and Reclamation Project
LA Bright Side Oysters Grand Isle Louisiana Oyster Washing and Sorting Station
MA Shellfish Broker Massachusetts Oyster CSA – Providing Greater Boston Area residents access to oysters from diverse growing regions across the Bay State.
MD William Pfeiffer Modernizing and Enhancing the Efficiency of Chesapeake Bay Oyster Plantings
ME Maine Aquaculture Association Maine Oyster Trail – creating an interactive, digital tourism tool that connects users to Maine oyster farms, their products, and Maine businesses that offer authentic Maine oyster experiences
ME Maine Oyster Company and the Phippsburg Conservation Commission Basin Oyster Project - Building a sustainable oyster reef in a deep-water tidal inlet of the New Meadows River
ME Mook Sea Farm Overwintering of late season upweller oyster seed through cold storage to increase supply of early-season seed to oyster farmers
ME North Haven Oyster Company Growing Nirvana - design and test wood-based floating oyster crates for seed and grow-out of oysters as a plastic gear alternative
MS Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United Strengthening Oyster Aquaculture Industry Engagement, Opportunities, and Conservation in Mississippi
NC Crystal Coast Oysters Co-culturing Purple Sea Urchins and Eastern Oysters: Evaluating fouling control and crop diversification
NC Sandbar Oyster Company Developing Shellfish Leases as Restoration Sites and Sources of Oysters for Food and Off-Lease Restoration Projects
NJ New Jersey Aquaculture Association Targeted Marketing to Increase Market Opportunity and Improve Public Awareness of Oyster Farming in New Jersey
NY Scrimshaw Enterprises Aluminum oyster cages and bay scallop initiative
VA Riggins Enterprises Yorktown COAST: Coastlines & Oysters Advance for Sustainable Tables
WA Drayton Harbor Oyster Company The Tide to Table Story of Our Watershed & Community
WA Legoe Bay Shellfish Island Mariculture - incorporate nursery stock seaweeds at the hatchery and use a historic passive fishery for grow out and marketing
WA Nisbet Oyster Co. New Product Innovation – creation of shelf stable and value-added frozen products in partnership with the Oregon State University Food Innovation Center
WA Sound Fresh Clams and Oysters Reestablishing Olympia Oysters in Little Skookum Inlet
2021 Large Award Recipients
State Business/organization Project Title
CA Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative Moving Olympia oyster aquaculture forward in California: building partnerships and addressing bottlenecks
FL Cedar Key Aquaculture Association Expanding Opportunities for Florida’s Clam Aquaculture Industry through Development of Restoration Products
FL The University of Florida - Tropical Research and Education Center A Holistic Assessment of Using Shellfish Aquaculture for Water Quality Improvement Initiatives in Florida
MA Boston University College of Arts & Sciences Shellfish Water Quality Mobile Laboratory
MS The University of Southern Mississippi Gulf Coast Shellfish Association (GCSA): Facilitating self-governance among stakeholders in shellfish aquaculture within the Gulf of Mexico to advance regulatory reform
NJ East Coast Shellfish Growers Association Revising Best Management Practices to Maximize Ecosystem Services
VA Virginia Institute of Marine Science Oyster-associated nutrient crediting and trading: Ecological, regulatory, legal, financial, and infrastructure barriers and opportunities in Virginia
WA Puget Sound Restoration Fund Using conservation aquaculture to unblock restoration bottlenecks for native Olympia oysters

RFP Guidelines and Priorities

The projects above were selected based on their alignment to the priorities listed in the RFP Guidelines. For more information and details about the Small and Large Funding Tracks, download respective RFP Guidelines.

Small RFP Details

  • Who is eligible to apply?

    The Fund is open to applicants in the United States. This program seeks to provide funding equitably among the following geographies: West Coast (including Hawaii and Alaska), East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.

    Shellfish growers and organizations that directly support the shellfish industry are encouraged to apply to the small-scale award. Eligible organizations for the small award program include, but are not limited to:  

    • Shellfish growers: e.g., oysters, clams, geoducks, mussels, scallops, abalones
    • Shellfish aquaculture industry associations 
    • Supply chain companies supporting aquaculture: e.g., seafood processors and dealers, hatcheries, gear providers, technology providers
  • What type of projects will be funded?

    Proposed projects must identify and advance at least one of the priorities listed below. All applicants must determine which priority(ies) best represent their project and describe that connection clearly in the application. If the project touches on more than one priority, please indicate this in the application.

    All applicants must be able to show how their projects can result in a more resilient shellfish industry. Projects that demonstrate linkages to shellfish restoration or broader marine conservation outcomes will be prioritized. The small award program will prioritize shellfish growers and/or organizations that were unable to participate in the SOAR oyster purchase program.

  • Small award priorities

    The Small Award program seeks projects that:

    • Increase farmer engagement in shellfish restoration, marine conservation activities, or improve environmental outcomes of shellfish farming
    • Improve efficiency of farming operations 
    • Advance product marketing to increase demand
    • Develop new products and species
    • Create a diverse, equitable, and inclusive shellfish aquaculture industry  

    For a detailed breakdown and example for each priority, please visit the Small RFP Guidelines.

  • How much will be awarded?

    Applicants applying for the small award will be eligible to receive up to $20,000 USD, all applicable taxes included.

    Match funding is encouraged, but not essential, and accounted for in the application process when reviewing the cost effectiveness of the budget. 

  • How do I apply?

    Small Award Application Process

    Small-scale awards will follow a streamlined application process. Applicants will be required to fill out an application form and a budget worksheet.

    The application must be completed in Microsoft Word or PDF. The budget worksheet must be completed in Microsoft Excel.  

    All applications, including supporting materials, must be submitted in one email to soar@tnc.org. In the subject line, please include the name of the project and “Small RFP”.

Large RFP Details

  • Who is eligible to apply?

    The Fund is open to applicants in the United States. This program seeks to provide funding equitably among the following geographies: West Coast (including Hawaii and Alaska), East Coast, and the Gulf of Mexico.

    Initiatives that will benefit broad swaths of the shellfish aquaculture industry are encouraged to apply to the large-scale award. Under this award category, recipients are required to work in partnership with shellfish farmers. Eligible organizations for the large award program include, but are not limited to:  

    • Shellfish growers: e.g., oysters, clams, geoducks, mussels, scallops, abalones
    • Shellfish aquaculture industry associations
    • Supply chain companies supporting aquaculture: e.g., seafood processors and dealers, hatcheries, gear providers, technology providers
    • Academic organizations, including labs/extension offices associated with universities 
    • Non-profit organizations engaged directly in the support of shellfish aquaculture
    • State agencies
  • What type of projects will be funded?

    Proposed projects must identify and advance at least one of the priorities listed below. All applicants must determine which priority(ies) best represent their project and describe that connection clearly in the proposal. If the project touches on more than one priority, please indicate this in the proposal.

    All applicants must be able to show how their projects can result in a more resilient shellfish industry. Projects that demonstrate linkages to shellfish restoration or broader marine conservation outcomes will be prioritized. The large award program will prioritize shellfish growers and/or organizations that were unable to participate in the SOAR oyster purchase program.

  • Large award priorities

    The Large Award program seeks projects that:

    • Advance payments for ecosystem services
    • Create long-term markets for restoration
    • Advance product marketing to increase demand
    • Develop new products and species
    • Develop supporting infrastructure and services
    • Improve regulation of shellfish aquaculture

    For a detailed breakdown and example for each priority, please visit the Large RFP Guidelines.

  • How much will be awarded?

    Applicants applying for the large award will be eligible to receive up to $100,000 USD, all applicable taxes included.

    Match funding is encouraged, but not essential, and accounted for in the application process when reviewing the cost effectiveness of the budget. 

  • How do I apply?

    Large Award Application Process

    When the application period opens, please submit a full proposal including a:

    • Cover letter (1-page maximum)
    • Application with the following sections:
      • Project summary: brief “abstract” about the project
      • Full project description
      • Explanation of how the project links to priority(ies)
      • Key project milestones, outcomes, and performance indicators
      • Description of technical/scientific methods (as appropriate)
      • Descriptionof how the project supports diversity, equity, and inclusion in the shellfish aquaculture industry (if applicable)
      • Assessment of the scale of impact on the shellfish industry that can be achieved through the project
      • Explanation of why the project is innovative
      • Plan for sharing outcomes with the shellfish industry
      • Name of shellfish grower(s) collaborating on the project
    • Applications should be 12-pt font and single spaced with 1” margins (8 pages maximum, not including budget worksheet, supporting information, and letter(s) of support).
    • Budget worksheet and narrative, detailing project costs
    • Any additional information that would be useful in evaluation of the proposal
    • Letter(s) of support: The letter of support should be from a shellfish grower stating that the project will be directly applicable to the industry. Multiple letters of support are encouraged, but at least 1 must come from a grower. Letters of support or recommendation written by TNC or Pew staff will not be considered.  

    The cover letter, application, additional materials, and letter(s) of support must be completed in Microsoft Word or PDF. The budget worksheet must be completed in Microsoft Excel. 

    All proposals, including supporting materials, must be submitted in one email to soar@tnc.org. In the subject line, please include the name of the project and “Large RFP”.

We’d like to thank the following collaborators for their insight, expertise and support building out the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) initiative.

Collaborators

National Collaborators

Local Collaborators

  • Maine
    • Maine Department of Marine Resources
    • University of Maine Cooperative Extension
    • Maine Sea Grant
  • Maryland
    • Maryland Department of Natural Resources
    • University of Maryland Extension
    • Oyster Recovery Partnership
    • Chesapeake Bay Foundation
  • Massachusetts
    • Massachusetts Aquaculture Association
    • WHOI Sea Grant/Barnstable County Cooperative Extension
    • Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
  • New Hampshire
    • Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire
    • New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
    • New Hampshire Fish and Game
    • New Hampshire Sea Grant
    • NRCS
    • Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership
    • UNH School of Marine Sciences and Ocean Engineering at the Jackson Estuarine Lab
  • New Jersey
    • Barnegat Bay Partnership
    • Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory, Rutgers University
    • NJDEP Division of Fish & Wildlife
    • NY/NJ Baykeeper
    • Partnership for the Delaware Estuary
    • Stockton University
  • New York
    • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
    • Long Island Oyster Growers Association
    • Stony Brook University and the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program
    • Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program
    • Gino Macchio Foundation
    • Friends of Bellport Bay
    • Moriches Bay Project
    • Town of Brookhaven 
    • Town of Southampton
    • Town of Oyster Bay
    • Billion Oyster Project
    • Friends of the Bay
  • Washington

    Puget Sound Restoration Fund

    Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Our Staff

National Contacts

Local Contacts