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Aquaculture has been a mainstay of Washington’s economy since the state’s founding, and there is still potential for more growth. Three federal grants announced last week will provide total funding of $1.1 million to Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment. The money will pay for “research that will sustainably further shellfish and finfish aquaculture in the state.” The organization is among 18 Sea Grant programs around the country that have been awarded $9.3 million in aquaculture grants from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The grants were awarded through two competitions designed to identify projects that will lead to the responsible development of the domestic shellfish, finfish and seaweed aquaculture industries. NOAA received 126 proposals requesting nearly $58 million in federal funds. For each of the 32 accepted proposals, every two federal dollars granted is matched by non-federal funds, bringing the total investment in the projects to $13.9 million.
“Washington shellfish farmers have led the nation in production of high-quality cultured products for decades,” said Penny Dalton, director of Washington Sea Grant. “Two of the projects will focus on environmental challenges the industry faces. The third will pilot commercial operations to grow sablefish.”
Washington Sea Grant’s largest award was $824,144 for research on developing sablefish (also known as black cod) aquaculture. While sablefish are highly sought after, their populations are not increasing and the wild fisheries are highly controlled. Aquaculture offers a possible solution to address the gap between sablefish supply and demand. The project brings together scientists from the University of Washington and NOAA Manchester with Jamestown S’Klallam tribal experts in an experiment to grow 10,000 sablefish to harvest size.
Washington Sea Grant also received funding to address potential impediments to the shellfish aquaculture industry. While many local shellfish farms focus on introduced species, interest in culturing native shellfish species is rising. However, interbreeding captive and wild shellfish raises concerns about potential genetic risks to wild populations. The grant will provide $149,530 to develop genetic risk assessment tools and evaluate management strategies for mitigating these risks.
Lastly, the organization received $149,995 for a partnership between The Nature Conservancy, UW and NOAA scientists to research the functional role of shellfish habitat as compared to natural habitat. This project will address two major barriers to the sustainable growth of shellfish aquaculture in Washington: public perception and permitting.
“This country, with its abundant coastline, should not have to import billions of pounds of seafood each year,” said Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. “These grants will promote aquaculture projects that will help us reduce our trade deficit in this key industry.” As the aquaculture industry is already a mainstay of the state, Washington is poised to play a vital role in its expansion.