Sen. Reed, Sen. Whitehouse Team Up with RWU to Help Responsibly Grow R.I.'s Shellfish Aquaculture Industry

Delivering $1.6M to RWU for shellfish aquaculture, the Senators partner with Roger Williams to develop smart strategies and direct support to make shellfish farms stronger and more productive and help new shellfish aquaculture businesses start up across the Ocean State.

Jill Rodrigues '05
Senator Reed, Senator Whitehouse and President Miaoulis wade out to RWU's oyster farm.

BRISTOL, R.I. – With Rhode Island boasting one of the largest and growing oyster industries in the country, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse are teaming up with Roger Williams University to develop smart strategies and direct support to make shellfish farms stronger and more productive and help new shellfish aquaculture businesses start up across the Ocean State.

Aquaculture is one of the fastest-growing food production sectors in the world and Rhode Island is home to more than 80 oyster farms, or one in every six oyster aquaculture businesses on the East Coast. In fiscal year 2022 appropriations law, Senators Reed and Whitehouse secured a $1.6 million earmark for RWU to provide support for shellfish aquaculture farmers in Rhode Island through aquaculture research, resources, and legal services.

RWU’s leadership in shellfish and marine fish aquaculture has made it a go-to resource for established and aspiring shellfish farmers, who take oyster farming courses and consult with university experts on growing operations, bivalve diseases, and legal questions on siting, business startup and expansion.

The Senators and President Miaoulis wade out to RWU's oyster farm.On Monday, August 8, Senators Reed and Whitehouse joined RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis for a ‘wet tour’ of the university’s oyster farm in Mount Hope Bay and a ‘dry tour’ of the university’s oyster hatchery and aquaculture wet lab.

“For more than 20 years, Roger Williams has had the leading marine aquaculture science program. We are proud to be writing the next chapter of our leadership work in Rhode Island’s growing shellfish aquaculture industry,” Miaoulis said. “With the right planning and partnering with Senators Reed and Whitehouse and Rhode Island’s shellfish farmers, Roger Williams University will serve as blue innovation leaders that design a progressive, sustainable coastal strategy that will serve as a best-in-class model for other regions to replicate around the country.”

Senators Reed and Whitehouse want the Ocean State to have the right strategy and resources to sustainably grow the state’s aquaculture sector and address a range of production challenges while ensuring the health and safety of fresh, local seafood.

“Shellfish aquaculture is becoming an integral part of our coastal ecosystem’s biodiversity, environmental stewardship, food security, and economy. Each year, the shellfish aquaculture community continues to grow, employing hundreds of Rhode Islanders and bringing in millions of dollars in sales,” said Senator Reed.  “We want it to grow responsibly and sustainably. We salute the team here at Roger Williams University. CEED offers students and people from the community a world-class education in oyster management – it’s like Oyster Farming 101. From critical research that ensures both human health and coastal health to providing practical support for launching a new business to technical feedback on what oyster farmers need to succeed, Roger Williams has become a go-to resource for Rhode Islanders.”

“Aquaculture is one of the pillars of Rhode Island’s Blue Economy, so it’s fitting that Roger Williams University has become a one stop shop for current and aspiring aquaculture farmers,” said Senator Whitehouse. “Senator Reed and I were glad to deliver federal funding to support the University’s programs to sustainably grow the industry, create jobs, and ensure that the Ocean State continues to produce the world’s best oysters.”

Shellfish Aquaculture with Senators Reed & Whitehouse

In addition to supporting RWU’s continued advancements in shellfish aquaculture science through its Center for Economic and Environmental Development (CEED) and sharing knowledge on Rhode Island-specific ecosystems and issues with shellfish farmers and the public, the funding will expand its aquaculture operations to raise and distribute four million oyster seeds annually for Rhode Island oyster farmers in a dedicated upweller system on its waterfront learning platform. These specialized tanks are a critical step in successfully growing oysters during their early life stage, and Roger Williams will be making this important part of the growing process more accessible to local farmers.

Portions of the funding will purchase equipment to establish a histology lab to support the development of coastal resilience through shellfish aquaculture disease and pollutant testing, and purchase new analytical equipment for a chemistry lab which will play a central role in education, research and training to assess and promote aquatic ecosystem health. It will also support RWU Law School’s Marine Affairs Institute, home of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Legal Program, to provide legal services and policy resources to communities interested in shellfish aquaculture.  

Roger Williams University is unique in being able to provide both the aquaculture knowledge and legal expertise required to develop a thriving oyster farming industry. While the university’s mission is to conduct leading research that provides new understanding, techniques and resources – and to bring that knowledge to the world, it is also to actively engage undergraduate students and law students in research at every step to ensure that the next generations of scientists, legal experts and entrepreneurs have the experience and skills to continue making advancements in the blue economy in Rhode Island and around the globe.

In other coastal and ocean sustainability efforts, RWU is also known for leading the research on Astrangia poculata – and helping to make that the official Rhode Island state coral, pioneering lab-raised marine ornamental fish and shellfish for major public aquaria and the tropical fish hobby trade, biotechnology and microbiology work, and being the new home of the E.P.A.’s Narragansett Bay Estuary Program. And a key part of these many efforts is RWU’s wide-ranging work with community partners and industry leaders.

“Partnerships are at the heart of our work at Roger Williams,” said Miaoulis. “And this collaboration with Senators Reed and Whitehouse is a great example of an integrated partnership between higher ed, government and industry, that leverages our local talent, knowledge, and resources to build a stronger Rhode Island.”