Thriving shellfish farms and healthy coastal ecosystems go hand in hand.
- 125 shellfish farming companies supported
- 450+ jobs sustained across seven states
- 3.5 million+ oysters purchased
- Nearly 40 acres of imperiled native shellfish reefs supported across 25 restoration sites
- 36 Resiliency Fund projects selected across 16 coastal U.S. states
Oysters are more than just a delicacy—they’re an environmental powerhouse. A single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water every day, removing excess nutrients and other pollutants. Multiplied by an entire reef of hundreds of thousands of oysters, the improvement to coastal water quality can be substantial. These reefs also provide habitat for hundreds of marine species and help protect shorelines from erosion by serving as natural buffers against rising tides and hurricanes.
Despite their many benefits, oyster reefs are the most threatened marine habitat on Earth. Globally, about 85% of native oyster reefs have disappeared due to overharvesting, disease, pollution, development and climate change.
As researchers, conservationists and communities work to protect this essential and endangered habitat, farmed oysters are playing an important role. For one, they are helping meet consumer demand for shellfish, easing pressure on wild harvests. In addition to standing for their wild counterparts on diners’ plates, farmed oysters are acting as a substitute in the ocean, too: across the country, oysters are being transferred from farms to reefs, aiding in their recovery.
However, oyster farmers are facing their own challenges. Many of the same environmental factors that have depleted wild oyster populations are threatening farmed oysters as well. But even in the absence of natural stressors, there’s economic uncertainty to contend with. The vast majority of oysters are eaten at restaurants, meaning that growers’ livelihoods are largely dependent on a single market. When that market faces disruptions—as it did during the widespread restaurant closures early on in the pandemic—the shellfish industry is vulnerable to shocks, which can in turn jeopardize jobs and local economies.
Through the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) program, The Nature Conservancy is working with its partners to support a resilient oyster industry and leverage aquaculture in reef restoration—a win-win for these environmentally friendly businesses and for our coastal ecosystems.
Created in collaboration with Pew Charitable Trusts, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, SOAR is taking a two-pronged approach to help both farmed and wild oysters thrive:
The Purchase Program purchases farmed oysters and uses them in nearby oyster restoration projects, providing an additional income stream for growers and aiding in reef recovery. Learn more at the Purchase Program page.
In early 2021, in partnership with Pew, NOAA, state management agencies and shellfish growers’ associations, the initiative also established a Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund (the Fund), which aims to pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable U.S. shellfish industry that benefits the ocean and the communities that rely upon it. The Fund extends grants to shellfish growers and aligned organizations to further collaborative marine conservation efforts and foster economic opportunities for shellfish farming in the United States. To learn more about the initiative, please visit the Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund page.
We are not currently accepting applications for the Purchase Program. Please check back soon!
Oyster aquaculture in the United States supports jobs in coastal communities, provides a sustainable source of seafood and can help improve ocean health by creating wildlife habitat and filtering water. But when COVID-19 and the resulting restaurant closures led to a dramatic decrease in demand for farmed shellfish, oyster farmers across the country struggled to market their products, putting more than 3,000 jobs in the oyster aquaculture industry at risk.
In the midst of this crisis, the Purchase Program was created as a way to protect oyster reefs while also helping shellfish farmers. The program purchases oysters from farms and redirects them to restoration projects, providing an additional income stream for growers and aiding in reef recovery. Since 2020, the program has deployed more than 3.5 million farmed oysters to rebuild 40 acres of oyster reef across 25 restoration sites while supporting 125 shellfish companies and preserving more than 450 critical jobs. In the second phase of SOAR, the Purchase Program expects to deploy an additional 2.5 million oysters to rebuild 30 acres of reefs across 11 new restoration sites while supporting 100 farms and 300 jobs.
The SOAR oyster purchase program will be deployed in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Washington State.
The geographies identified represent a mix of grower need, restoration opportunity, gaps unaddressed by other similar programs and available funding in these states.
The aim is to extend funding to at least 100 shellfish growers in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Washington State.
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 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.
The Purchase Program applications will be open to growers from New Hampshire, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Maryland, California and Washington State later this spring. Please check back soon for more information.
For the first East Coast phase of the program, TNC and Pew are 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.
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.
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.
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.
The SOAR Shellfish Growers Resiliency Fund (the Fund) aims to pave the way for a more resilient and sustainable U.S. shellfish industry that benefits the ocean and the communities that rely upon it.
The Fund is built upon the principle that a resilient aquaculture industry can advance conservation goals. Responsibly managed shellfish farms can provide vital ecosystem services that benefit ocean health, and, as such, shellfish growers are critical partners in conservation. Recognizing this, the Fund extends grants to shellfish growers and aligned organizations to further collaborative marine conservation efforts and increase economic opportunities for shellfish farming in the United States.
In its first phase, the Fund issued a total of $1 million for 36 innovation awards across 16 states. As it enters its second phase, the Fund expects to sponsor an additional 50 farmer-led innovation projects as well as facilitate special projects in priority states to address systemic issues facing the shellfish industry.
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.
2021 Award Recipients
OceansAlaska: Alaskan Shellfish Hatchery Intern Program—Expanding Tribal Capacity in Shellfish Mariculture
Spinnaker Sea Farms: Growing Kelp for Economic and Species Diversity at Spinnaker Sea Farms
Alma Bryant High School: Develop an oyster hatchery and educate students through the Bryant Oyster Academy
Bodega Bay Oyster Company: Native Littleneck Clam Spawning, Nursing and Outgrowth in a Vertically Integrated System in Northern California
Hog Island Oyster Company: Building Farm & Ecosystem Resilience with Native Olympia Oysters (Ostrea lurida) in Tomales Bay, CA
Florida Shellfish Aquaculture Association: Florida Shellfish Aquaculture Association Executive Director Support
Indian River Oyster Company: Enhancing shellfish aquaculture resilience through co-production of oysters and urchins
Serenoa Shellfish: Exploring Secondary Uses for By-products of Off-bottom Oyster Aquaculture in Reef Restoration and Shoreline Stabilization Projects
The Florida Oyster Trading Company: Pensacola Bay Oyster Aquaculture Ecosystem Services-Based Resiliency Initiative
E.L. McIntosh & Son Seafood: Georgia Shellfish Aquaculture—Organize, setup and launch an Aquaculture pilot program in McIntosh County Academy
Shell to Shore: Seabear “Shell to Shore” Oyster Shell Recycling and Reclamation Project
Bright Side Oysters: Grand Isle Louisiana Oyster Washing and Sorting Station
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
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
Mook Sea Farm: Overwintering of late season upweller oyster seed through cold storage to increase supply of early-season seed to oyster farmers
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
William Pfeiffer: Modernizing and Enhancing the Efficiency of Chesapeake Bay Oyster Plantings
Shellfish Broker: Massachusetts Oyster CSA—Providing Greater Boston Area residents access to oysters from diverse growing regions across the Bay State
Mississippi Commercial Fisheries United: Strengthening Oyster Aquaculture Industry Engagement, Opportunities, and Conservation in Mississippi
New Jersey Aquaculture Association: Targeted Marketing to Increase Market Opportunity and Improve Public Awareness of Oyster Farming in New Jersey
Scrimshaw Enterprises: Aluminum oyster cages and bay scallop initiative
Crystal Coast Oysters: Co-culturing Purple Sea Urchins and Eastern Oysters: Evaluating fouling control and crop diversification
Sandbar Oyster Company: Developing Shellfish Leases as Restoration Sites and Sources of Oysters for Food and Off-Lease Restoration Projects
Riggins Enterprises: Yorktown COAST: Coastlines & Oysters Advance for Sustainable Tables
Drayton Harbor Oyster Company: The Tide to Table Story of Our Watershed & Community
Legoe Bay Shellfish: Island Mariculture—incorporate nursery stock seaweeds at the hatchery and use a historic passive fishery for grow out and marketing
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
Sound Fresh Clams and Oysters: Reestablishing Olympia Oysters in Little Skookum Inlet
Native Olympia Oyster Collaborative: Moving Olympia oyster aquaculture forward in California: building partnerships and addressing bottlenecks
Cedar Key Aquaculture Association: Expanding Opportunities for Florida’s Clam Aquaculture Industry through Development of Restoration Products
The University of Florida—Tropical Research and Education Center: A Holistic Assessment of Using Shellfish Aquaculture for Water Quality Improvement Initiatives in Florida
Boston University College of Arts & Sciences: Shellfish Water Quality Mobile Laboratory
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
East Coast Shellfish Growers Association: Revising Best Management Practices to Maximize Ecosystem Services
Virginia Institute of Marine Science: Oyster-associated nutrient crediting and trading: Ecological, regulatory, legal, financial, and infrastructure barriers and opportunities in Virginia
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.
We’d like to thank the following collaborators for their insight, expertise and support building out the Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Restoration (SOAR) initiative.
- Maine Department of Marine Resources
- University of Maine Cooperative Extension
- Maine Sea Grant
- Maryland Department of Natural Resources
- University of Maryland Extension
- Oyster Recovery Partnership
- Chesapeake Bay Foundation
- Massachusetts Aquaculture Association
- WHOI Sea Grant/Barnstable County Cooperative Extension
- Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries
- Coastal Conservation Association of New Hampshire
- New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services
- New Hampshire Fish and Game
- New Hampshire Sea Grant
- Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership
- UNH School of Marine Sciences and Ocean Engineering at the Jackson Estuarine Lab
- 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 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
- Puget Sound Restoration Fund
- Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife
Rebekah Borgert, Supporting Oyster Aquaculture and Resiliency (SOAR) Coordinator firstname.lastname@example.org
Tiffany Waters, Global Aquaculture Manager, The Nature Conservancy
Rachel Winters, Associate Director of Media Relations, The Nature Conservancy, email@example.com
Boze Hancock, Senior Marine Habitat Restoration Scientist, The Nature Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Bryer, Program Director, The Nature Conservancy, email@example.com
Stephen Kirk, Coastal Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brianna Group, Great Bay Program Manager, The Nature Conservancy, email@example.com
Zack Greenberg, Officer, Conserving Marine Life in the U.S., The Pew Charitable Trusts, firstname.lastname@example.org
Aaron Kornbluth, Officer, Conserving Marine Life in the U.S., The Pew Charitable Trusts, email@example.com
Molly Bogeberg, Marine & Coastal Conservation Specialist, The Nature Conservancy, firstname.lastname@example.org