U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, the first New Yorker to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, today announced new legislation to include farmed shellfish as a specialty crop. The Shellfish Marketing Assistance Fairness Act would make farmed shellfish producers eligible for the Specialty Crop Block Grant program. Currently, shellfish are ineligible for farm bill programs. However, these farmers of the sea face the same challenges as they compete with large scale operations for a share in the market. This bill would make shellfish producers eligible for federal funds for research, small business growth, and competitive marketing.
"It is imperative that New York's shellfish producers work on a fair playing field and access critical resources in order to compete with large-scale operations," said Senator Gillibrand. "Equipping our shellfish farmers with necessary tools will go a long way towards marketing their products and successfully growing their businesses."
In New York, this burgeoning industry has multiplier effect of four -- from harvesters to restaurant owners, so the potential for economic benefit is vast. The industry currently has a $9.8 million economic on Long Island alone. About 70 workers produce 18 million oysters and 14.5 million hard clams annually.
"Shellfish farmers in NY will benefit greatly from being included in the Farm bill through the Shellfish Marketing Assistance Fairness Act," stated Karen Rivara, President, Aeros Cultured Oyster Company. "Recent regulatory changes in New York and Suffolk County allow for more diversity of species under cultivation and more underwater land available to farm. USDA marketing dollars will help us educate the consumer about the crops we grow and the benefit to both the economy and the ecology of the NY maritime region. Research dollars will help us further develop new cultivation techniques"
"Inclusion of shellfish as a specialty crop in the farm bill will equip shellfish farmers working to reestablish and grow this historically significant industry with the tools to do so," said Bill Brauninger of Split Rock Shellfish. "The majority of shellfish operations in the U.S. are small to medium in size and lack the resources to mount the broad marketing campaigns that are needed for us to compete effectively with large, well-funded, globally based aquaculture businesses.
With the number of active permit holders expected to grow from 34 to 47 in New York this year, The Shellfish Marketing Assistance Fairness Act would help meet the demand for oysters and defend against a potential industry crash. The United States imports 91 percent of its seafood, about half of which is from aquaculture. New York is in a position to grow, harvest and sell its catch which would increase domestic consumption of a locally-grown product and help local economies.
New York was once a major national producer of shellfish. However, due to several factors, including environmental changes, the industry has suffered. Today, shellfish producers could benefit from research dollars especially in developing culture methods for new species.
If this legislation is passed, New York State Agriculture and Markets could help the burgeoning farmed shellfish industry on Long Island increase their sales. It would also ensure access to marketing assistance and allow shellfish farmers the opportunity to receive grants to help them succeed in this competitive farming industry.