Supporting Connecticut’s Shellfish Industry During COVID-19

Phased Response to Rehabilitate Natural Beds

Marc Harrell
Marc Harrell, manager of Mystic Oysters, checks on brood stock at the Noank Shellfish Cooperative on Thursday. Although most of the co-op is shut down, the brood stock tanks had to be maintained. “This is our future, so we have to keep this going,” Harrell said. Judy Benson / Connecticut Sea Grant

(HARTFORD, CT) – The Connecticut Department of Agriculture is collaborating with state and federal partners on the development of a phased response to support shellfish farmers during the COVID-19 pandemic. The innovative program will enable shellfish farmers to contribute to the rehabilitation of the state’s natural shellfish beds, and to receive compensation for their work, which will occur in two distinct phases. This work highlights the importance of the partnership between the Department and Connecticut Sea Grant to provide assistance to the industry during a critical time.

“Ongoing close relationships and coordination between the Department of Agriculture, Connecticut Sea Grant, and industry members allowed for a quick assessment of needs and pooling of capacity and resources for what in my opinion represents a response that is both quick and thoughtful, for the short and medium term”, said Sylvain De Guise, director of Connecticut Sea Grant. “From discussions with colleagues in the region, Connecticut is ahead of neighboring states in responding to the needs of the shellfish aquaculture sector”, he added.

Six areas of focus have been identified by the department, totaling approximately 7,000 acres. The areas are located from West Haven to Greenwich in order maximize participation by shellfish companies. Specifically, the natural bed areas are Flatneck Point Greenwich, Fish Island Natural Bed Darien/Norwalk, Fairfield Natural Bed, Bridgeport/Stratford Natural Bed, Offshore Housatonic River and West Haven Shoal Natural Bed. All of these beds are in need of rehabilitation in order to return them to productive seed oyster producing assets.

“As Commissioner, I have granted access to Connecticut’s public shellfish beds for the specific purpose of the work proposed in this project,” said Agriculture Commissioner Bryan P. Hurlburt. “This addresses the emerging economic impacts resulting from COVID-19, while simultaneously addressing one of the key recommendations identified in the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative Vision Plan to rehabilitate the state’s public shellfish beds.”

Phase One, the rehabilitation of designated portions of natural beds using hydraulic clam dredges, is targeted to begin May 6, 2020 with more than one dozen participants registered and more anticipated.

Phase Two is slated to start June 1, 2020 utilizing federal funding through a project submitted by the Department and Connecticut Sea Grant. This phase will allow shellfish farmers to rehabilitate shallower portions of the natural bed. Upon approval of funding, this phase of the program will allow participating companies to be compensated for a portion of their hours worked.

The Department will document enhancement achieved through the rehabilitation efforts using a combination of the VMS data, landings reporting, and via the deployment of an underwater video camera to document bottom conditions of those areas that have been worked versus baseline conditions in areas of the beds that have not been worked. Staff intend to document long-term recovery of beds by assessing conditions and oyster recruitment levels on project areas in subsequent seasons. The information will be used to develop best management practices for the management of natural oyster seed beds to achieve maximum production of oyster seed in these beds in the future.

By rehabilitating the state’s public shellfish beds, the Department hopes to facilitate the availability of oyster seed to the entire industry, ensuring the future sustainability of the state’s shellfish industry.

Shellfish companies interested in participating in the program should submit their request via email to