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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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

Are you a shellfish grower interested in participating in the SOAR program?
Click here for more information on how to apply.

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. 

Want to participate in the SOAR Oyster Purchase Program?

Please fill out the short form below, and we’ll be in touch about opportunities. Asterisks indicate required fields.

Thank you so much for your interest in the SOAR program. Please note that the SOAR program does not have economic relief funds for non-oyster growers or farms outside the following states at this time: MA, ME, MD, NH, NJ, NY, WA. Should resources become available, the SOAR program will contact you with further information.
Information About You
Please provide your first name.
Please provide your last name.
Please provide your email address.
Are you an oyster grower?*
Please answer this question.
In which state is your farm located?*
Please answer this question.
Please answer this question.

Please note for growers:

  • In Maine: Due to state regulatory requirements reflecting biosecurity concerns*, we are not accepting oysters from the MSX closure area at this time. Farms outside this area may not be eligible.
  • In Massachusetts: Due to state regulatory requirements reflecting biosecurity concerns, we are accepting oysters from Buzzards Bay at this time. Farms outside this area may not be eligible.
  • In Washington: We are only accepting native Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida) for restoration efforts. Please refer to WDFW protocols for use of hatchery seed for native oyster restoration. We are also exploring purchase of Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) shell for restoration, as this has been identified as a critical need to restore Olympia oysters and could allow for more equitable distribution of funds to additional growers. The deadline to apply for the Olympia Oyster Purchase program and expression of interest in Sale of Pacific Oyster Shell is Friday, January 22, 2021.
  • In New York/New Jersey: The deadline to apply for the program is Friday, November 6, 2020.

*Due to detections of the oyster pathogen MSX, there are restrictions on the movement of oysters from all waters located north of a line beginning at the southernmost tip of Pemaquid Point in South Bristol and extending southwest to the southernmost tip of Kennebec Point in Georgetown, including the Damariscotta, Johns, Sheepscot, Cross, Back, and Sasanoa Rivers, and all tributaries (DMR Chapter 24.10 Regulations). North of that line transport of oysters to other water bodies is prohibited due to biosecurity concerns.

Information About Your Farm
Please provide the name of your farm.
Please provide the street address of your farm.
Please provide the city where your farm is located.
Please provide the ZIP code for your farm.
Additional Questions

Purchase of Live Oysters

If you are just interested in the exploratory shell purchase options, please scroll down for shell-related questions.

Please answer this question.
Please answer this question.
Are you able and willing to transport and deploy the product from your farm to the restoration site? (This is not a requirement of the program.) (Optional)
Please answer this question.
Please answer this question.

For Washington Growers Only

Answer these only if you are interested in the exploratory shell purchase options.

Do you have Pacific oyster shell that you’d be interested in selling for restoration purposes? (Optional)
Please answer this question.
Please answer this question.
If provided funding to do so, would you be willing to pre-sort the Pacific oyster shell to remove debris and ropes? (Optional)
Please answer this question.
If provided funding to do so, are you able and willing to transport the product from your farm to a restoration site or designated repository? (Not a requirement.) (Optional)
Please answer this question.
Please answer this question.
You must check this box in order to submit the form.

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 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.

Formed in early 2021 under SOAR, the Fund is a partnership between TNC, The Pew Charitable Trusts, 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.

Small and Large Awards

We are currently accepting applications for the small or large awards at this time. 

Request for Proposals

The Fund will be soliciting proposals for our small and large awards. The two funding tracks have different eligibility requirements, application and reporting requirements, priorities, and deadlines. If you’re interested in applying, please see below for an overview about each funding track. Please note that due to limited funding, we anticipate not being able to support everyone who applies.

If you have questions about the RFP application process, please contact Christina Popolizio, SOAR Program Coordinator at c.d.popolizio@tnc.org.

Guidelines and Templates

Small RFP Funding 

RFP Timeline

Round 1

  • March 29, 2021: Application period opens
  • April 28, 2021: Information webinar and Q&A
  • May 17, 2021: Applications due
  • May – June 2021: Applications reviewed 
  • June 2021: Round one projects selected and applicants notified 
  • July 2021: Round one projects start 

Round 2

  • May 2021: Application period opens (round-two)
  • June 2021: Applications due
  • June-July 2021: Applications reviewed 
  • July 2021: Round two projects selected and applicants notified 
  • August 2021: Start of funding cycle
  • August 2022: End of funding cycle 

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 Funding 

RFP Timeline

  • March 29, 2021: Application period opens
  • April 28, 2021: Information webinar and Q&A
  • June 14, 2021: Final proposals due
  • June – July 2021: Proposals reviewed 
  • July 2021: Projects selected and applicants notified 
  • August 2021: Start of funding cycle
  • August 2023: End of funding cycle 

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