Fisheries Resources: Sustainable Aquaculture (2002-2013)

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Brian Doyle (Deceased 12/2008) N.H. Sea Grant Associate Director
Roland Barnaby (Retired 2008) UNH - Cooperative Extension Extension Educator for Water Quality
Ken La Valley UNH - Cooperative Extension Assistant Director for Extension
Erik Chapman N.H. Sea Grant Fisheries Program Coordinator

The United States aquaculture industry, at about 1 billion dollars, currently ranks eleventh globally with 1% of production by weight annually. Farmed crops include mollusks, crustaceans, finfish and seaweeds. Much of the country’s aquaculture production is for food, but there are also facilities producing bait, ornamentals, and species for commercial and recreational stock enhancement. While the US has a fairly well-developed freshwater industry, marine aquaculture lags far behind, accounting for only 15% of total domestic production.

There are currently about 10 aquaculture facilities in New Hampshire with a total annual farm gate value of $1.5 million. Until 2005, all but one of these operations was freshwater-based. Major species include trout, baitfish, bullhead, summer flounder and cod. The newest NH aquaculture operation, blue-mussel long line culture, is sited in offshore waters and has recently begun harvesting. The prospects for growth of both the New Hampshire and US marine aquaculture industries will be closely tied to their potential impacts on the environment. Many of the concerns focus on the adverse impacts of disease, loss of genetic diversity, introductions of non-indigenous species, and potential for habitat degradation.

While historically most US marine aquaculture operations have been sited in coastal areas, potential for significant growth likely lies either in offshore regions or in closed-culture systems that are land-based. Recently, NOAA proposed the National Offshore Aquaculture Act of 2007. This act would facilitate development of offshore aquaculture by consolidating permit requirements, providing environmental safeguards and establishing research and development industry partnerships.

  1. Develop new management strategies that utilize an ecosystem approach to stewardship of the fisheries resource.
  1. Develop strategies and technologies that will lead to the reduction of bycatch, discard and unaccounted fishing mortalities.
  1. Develop strategies that will quantify and reduce sea-bed impacts by commercial and recreational fisheries.
  1. Provide science-based information on essential fish habitat (EFH), marine protected areas (MPAs) and other closed areas that allows regulators to implement policies that balance the harvesting of living marine resources with environmental protection.
  1. Develop and improve culture system technology for cold-water marine species.
  1. Ensure that commercial aquaculture and marine stock enhancement are economically, environmentally and socially sustainable.

Selected Objectives for 2008-2011

Objective 1: At least one bank loan per year will be made to individuals seeking to enter the open ocean aquaculture industry.

Objective 2: Two new aquaculture businesses per year will start growing blue mussels on long lines in the open ocean.

Objective 3: By 2010 the fledgling blue mussel aquaculture industry will have grown to $2.5 million per year.

Objective 4: Five potential aquaculturists per year will obtain assistance from NHSG staff in developing business plans and drafting permit applications.


  • Continue to be engaged as an outreach specialist with UNH and other members of the research community working on open ocean aquaculture
  • Conduct at least four educational programs per year on open ocean aquaculture locally, regionally, nationally and internationally
  • Meet individually and as a group with at least 20 individuals per year representing commercial fishermen, decision-makers, media, potential investors, and other interested parties to explain open ocean blue mussel culture techniques
  • Assist interested individuals and companies in obtaining aquaculture permits in NH and federal waters
  • Help individuals and companies develop business plans for starting and expanding offshore mussel farms
  • Utilize the UNH Open Ocean Aquaculture Demonstration site to improve the mussel aquaculture process through testing of new equipment and growout and harvesting techniques
  • Assist mussel growers to expand marketing opportunities including the development of value-added products
  • Meet regularly with new mussel growers to help them create sustainable and profitable businesses

Goals for 2004-2007

  1. To develop and improve production methods for cold-water marine species appropriate for the New England region.  
  1. To ensure that commercial aquaculture is environmentally sustainable and economically/socially viable.  
  1. To transfer information and technology to appropriate user communities.

Objective 1: To facilitate the commercialization (or technology transfer) of UNH’s Open Ocean Aquaculture mussel culturing process with six NH commercial fishermen actively growing mussels on submerged longlines in 2005 and a $1.5 million industry in NH by 2007.

Background: Sea Grant Extension has been a partner in UNH’s Open Ocean Aquaculture project since its inception in 1999. Rollie Barnaby is one of three members of the executive committee representing the outreach portion of the project. The target audience is commercial fishermen who are seeking alternative business opportunities and have the necessary vessels, equipment and skills. The project has two components, finfish and shellfish. Blue mussels have been successfully grown on submerged longlines each year for the past three years and the process is ready for commercialization. Extension has conducted many workshops, produced videos and fact sheets, and met with interested parties one-on-one and in groups describing the process. Presently Extension is helping commercial fishermen identify sites, obtain necessary permits and develop business plans.



N.H. oyster aquaculture industry generates jobs and reduces pollution
The N.H. oyster aquaculture industry continues to create jobs for coastal N.H., provide a fresh, locally raised product, and help clean up Great Bay.

RELEVANCE: In N.H.’s Great Bay Estuary, nutrient influxes are generated from waste water treatment plants, runoff from impervious surfaces during spring melt and heavy precipitation. The bay nourished large numbers of the Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica) until the 1970s, when disease and siltation took out 90% of the population. Since 2010, shellfish aquaculture and restoration efforts have been growing steadily and the filter feeding oysters have made a comeback that has helped reduce the high nutrient levels in the bay.

RESPONSE: Permitting changes were adopted by the state in 2010 that have improved the ability of oyster farmers to gain access to state-owned bottom leases. With assistance from N.H. Sea Grant, numerous applicants have successfully sought shellfish aquaculture permits through N.H. Fish and Game and the industry has been expanding.

RESULTS: Two new oyster farms, the Pearl Oyster Company and Bay Point Oyster Company, were permitted in 2013, bringing the total farming community in Great Bay up to eight. In addition, Fat Dog Oyster Company expanded its operation by two acres. The total bottom area in production in upper and lower bay stands at 27 acres. Another two oyster farm sites are currently in the permitting process and hope to be in operation by the 2014 summer season. At present, over six million oysters are in culture with an estimated value of over $4 million. An oyster in N.H. waters takes three years to grow to a market size (3”). Fish and Game reported a total harvest of 81,274 oysters for 2013, which resulted in $61,780 in income for the aquaculturists. Currently, there are 26 people employed in oyster farming in the state.

Multi-species aquaculture industry continues to grow in N.H.’s Piscataqua River
The integrated aquaculture of steelhead trout, mussels and sugar kelp has been accepted by the EPA and state regulatory agencies. Production levels increased in 2013, creating additional income for regional fishermen while increasing water quality.

RELEVANCE: The northeast fishing industry has suffered economically due to reduced landings and changing federal regulations, and fishermen are exploring strategies that can sustain their livelihoods and their heritage.

RESPONSE: N.H. Sea Grant and the University of New Hampshire have been investigating small-scale, multi-trophic (multi-species) aquaculture (IMTA) in the Piscataqua River for three years. This provides fishermen an opportunity to diversify and learn a new skill set. The model was adopted due to concerns by the EPA of nitrogen input from fish feed to the already nitrogen impaired river. By integrating the production of steelhead trout, blue mussels and sugar kelp, fishermen were able to grow and sell a new source of seafood while having a positive impact to the ecosystem.

RESULTS: The 2013 IMTA demonstration trial increased production levels from 2012. As important, the nitrogen extraction by the mussels and kelp exceeded the nitrogen input from trout, and thus had a positive ecosystem effect. In 2013, the fishermen harvested over 2400 lbs. of trout (sold for $6.25/lb.) and 1255 lbs. of kelp, collected over 12 million mussel seed, and put over four tons of mussels into cultivation. Sugar kelp is being marketed as a fresh product, not dried or processed, and the results have been promising. Estimates from Portsmouth restaurants are over $10/lb. New information gained from the project is being used to modify the current shellfish classification of the aquaculture site. The fishermen continue to build confidence in their culture methods with the guidance of N.H. Sea Grant, and further expansion is planned for 2014. In addition, IMTA has created new sources of sustainable, local seafood and employment, helping fishermen diversify into seafood production while continuing to fish.

NOAA National Aquaculture Office films multi-species aquaculture activities of N.H. fishermen
N.H. Sea Grant has been training local fishermen on techniques for the integrated aquaculture of steelhead trout, blue mussels and sugar kelp. This caught the interest of the NOAA Aquaculture Office, which was pleased to see a group of fishermen diversifying into aquaculture that would help maintain their lifestyle working on the water. During the summer of 2013, NOAA sent a film crew to document the fishermen’s efforts. A short video is posted on the NOAA Aquaculture website at:

N.H. oyster roundtables help organize and strengthen the shellfish community
N.H. Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension organized two workshops for the fledgling oyster aquaculture industry in Great Bay during 2013. The forums gathered shellfish farmers and UNH resource experts to discuss issues facing the industry’s growth and development. The farmers aired their concerns regarding regulatory inflexibility with using certain gear, the permitting process, and the lack of coordination between state and federal agencies. Startup costs and access to a common area for offloading, cleaning, processing and storage were also discussed. The workshops helped farmers realize that they need to work together to move their industry forward, so the farmers have formed an association to work on the challenges facing them.

N.H. fishermen relay farm-raised mussels offshore
Fishermen working with N.H. Sea Grant on multi-species aquaculture raised over 7275 pounds of mussels during 2013. Due to the project site’s location just 1.5 miles down the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth sewage treatment facility, the mussels had to be relocated to open waters for six months before going to market because of state regulations. To facilitate the mussel relay, the fishermen modified lobster pots to hold and store mussels on the bottom of the ocean at an offshore site. Approximately 35 traps, each filled with 165 pounds of mussels, were set on a trawl line near Gunboat Shoals. The mussels will be retrieved in the summer of 2014, cleaned, graded and taken to market. In addition to the modified lobster pots placed offshore, 2756 pounds of mussels were set on the bottom to create a small mussel reef. The GPS location was recorded, and divers will visit the site in the summer of 2014 to monitor growth, survival and predation. The living reef will provide habitat and food for many marine organisms. In addition, the adult mussels will serve as a new source of mussel spat for the Gulf of Maine.

N.H. Sea Grant helping fishermen acquire offshore mussel leases
N.H. Sea Grant worked with a new group of entrepreneurial fishermen during 2013 to obtain offshore mussel leases for submerged long line culture. Three permitted, non-working mussel sites were given to the group in December. Located off Rye, N.H., these sites will be salvaged, renovated and re-established in the spring of 2014 and six, 600-foot mussel lines capable of producing more than 20,000 pounds of mussels per line will be deployed. A fourth offshore farm is in the application process, located in 110 feet of water just southeast of White Island. Submersible mussel farming technologies developed by the UNH Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center and new spat collecting lines from Quality Equipment of New Zealand will be used at that installation.


N.H. Oyster Aquaculture Industry Continues to Grow
RELEVANCE: In N.H.’s Great Bay Estuary, runoff from impervious surfaces during spring melt and after heavy precipitation generates high nutrient influxes to the bay. Eastern oyster aquaculture has been growing steadily in Great Bay since 2010. It has provided opportunities for commercial fishermen to diversify and the filter feeding oysters have helped reduce the high nutrient levels in the bay.

RESPONSE: The N.H. aquaculture lease process was modified for the bay in 2010. N.H. Fish and Game is now the lead agency with input from N.H. Department of Environmental Services and the Army Corp of Engineers. The new process was aided by researchers at UNH and regional programs, including the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership and the Nature Conservancy. The process now allows shellfish farmers to secure lease sites that can be renewed every five years. N.H. Sea Grant has been instrumental in helping new farmers through the permitting process and with the development of profitable oyster farms.

RESULTS: In 2012, the number of permits jumped from five to eight farms, with over 20 acres in production. This created 10 additional jobs; there are now 22 people working in the Great Bay shellfish industry. The farms are seeded out with more than six million oysters with a farm gate value of over $4 million. This is a 66% increase since 2011 when about four million oysters were in culture.

RECAP: The N.H. oyster aquaculture industry continues to create jobs for coastal N.H., provide a fresh, locally raised product, and help clean up Great Bay.

Multi-trophic Aquaculture Launched in the Piscataqua River
RELEVANCE: The northeast fishing industry has suffered economically due to reduced landings and changing federal regulations, and fishermen are exploring strategies that can sustain their heritage.

RESPONSE: N.H. Sea Grant and UNH have been investigating small-scale, multi-trophic aquaculture in the Piscataqua River. By integrating the production of steelhead trout and mussels on the same platform, fishermen can culture two products for sale while having minimal impact to the ecosystem. Initial permitting was established through N.H. Fish and Game at six sites. However, the EPA stopped the process due to concerns about adding nitrogen to the already nitrogen impaired river. NHSG engaged state and federal agencies, conducted literature searches and calculated nitrogen mass balance models based on the trout/mussel aquaculture concept.

RESULTS: The EPA granted UNH permission to demonstrate the project in 2012. Eight local fishermen were brought on to learn and participate. The project produced 1254 pounds of trout, which sold for $6 a pound at seafood markets in N.H. Ten million wild mussel spat was collected on the cage platform and is now in growout. Expected harvest weight is 7.5 tons by late summer 2013. In the river, nitrogen input from the trout was 103 pounds, while nitrogen absorption and retention from the mussels will be 200 pounds. Therefore the mussels will remove almost twice the nitrogen from the river than the trout added to it. This new culture method will help establish a permitting process for aquaculture in New England, and will also create new sources of sustainable, local seafood, employment and help fishermen diversify into seafood production while still fishing.

RECAP: A new model for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture of steelhead trout and mussels has been accepted by the EPA, one that will benefit both regional fishermen and water quality.

Sea Grant Working with Mystic Aquarium to Explain Aquaculture
NHSG has teamed up with Conn. and Maine Sea Grant to help create aquaculture exhibits at the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, Conn. The aquarium is constructing a new center for aquarium research and considering exhibits that would highlight locally produced seafood. Working with the aquarium and aquaculture officials from NOAA and the USDA, Sea Grant is helping to provide a positive message about the importance of responsible aquaculture in the U.S.

Sea Grant Helping Mussel Aquaculturists Evolve their Industry
N.H. and Maine Sea Grant have been collaborating to improve mussel raft technologies. Currently, rafts are constructed from steel, wood and square floats and can produce around 40,000 pounds of mussels per year. The industry wants to expand and move to more exposed sites with higher energies. To do this, rafts will have to be redesigned so that they can survive these sites while increasing the yield per raft. Sea Grant engaged mussel farmers from the two states in collecting data that will be used in the redesign. This information will be forwarded to several high-density polyethylene (HDPE) manufacturers that can create a sea worthy design for offshore culture.


N.H. Sea Grant Helps Build Oyster Aquaculture Industry and Improve Water Quality in Great Bay
RELEVANCE: Great Bay Estuary, with its rich flora and fauna, covers more than 17 square miles of intertidal area in New Hampshire. The bay is overly rich in nutrients due to runoff from fertilized fields and lawns. Developing shellfish aquaculture in the bay would improve the water quality because the shellfish would consume some of the excess nutrients.

RESPONSE The N.H. aquaculture lease process was modified for the bay in 2010. N.H. Fish and Game is now the lead agency with input from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and the Army Corps of Engineers. The new process was aided by researchers and staff at UNH, N.H. Sea Grant and regional programs, including the Piscataqua Region Estuaries Partnership and the Nature Conservancy. The process now allows aquafarmers to secure leases for oyster restoration and aquaculture.

RESULTS: The new leasing process has seen a 300% increase in oyster aquaculture production since 2010. A total of five farms covering 20.5 acres are now seeded commercially with over four million juvenile oysters on the bottom. Current value of the standing crop is approximately $2.8 million. This new industry has created jobs for coastal N.H., provides a fresh, locally raised product, and has helped clean up Great Bay.

RECAP: The development of oyster aquaculture in the Great Bay Estuary has created jobs, generated income and has reduced nutrients and turbidity in the bay.

N.H. Sea Grant Leading Effort to Combine Steelhead Trout and Mussel Aquaculture in Region
N.H. Sea Grant and UNH have been investigating small-scale, multi-trophic aquaculture systems to help support local fishermen in the Piscataqua River in response to the fishing industry being faced with repeated management measures reducing fishing opportunities, bag limits and income. Integrating the production of Steelhead trout and mussels on the same platform can result in a nitrogen neutral impact to the ecosystem. Initial permitting was established through N.H. Fish and Game for the fishermen at six sites. However, the EPA stopped the process due to concerns about new nitrogen sources to a river that was already nitrogen impaired. As a result, NHSG conducted meetings and literature searches and calculated nitrogen mass balance models to explain the nitrogen neutral concept to the EPA. After a year of reporting, the EPA decided to issue a 308 letter allowing for a demonstration project in the summer of 2012. The business set up in 2011 to serve as a demonstration project created two jobs and earned $43,120. Results from this project will educate the fishermen and create a permitting pathway for the production of a new source of sustainable seafood for New England.


Sea Grant Support Enhances N.H. Aquaculture Initiatives 

Over the last five years, the N.H. commercial fishing fleet has faced increasingly restrictive measures that have limited fishing opportunities and significantly reduced the inshore small vessel fleet. Aquaculture could provide a suitable business alternative or complement to fishing, but the loss of aquaculture extension capacity at NHSG has impacted the ability to respond to outreach and technology transfer requests for the region. With funding provided by the National Sea Grant office, NHSG hired a new full-time aquaculture extension staff member to support current and foster new aquaculture efforts and to work collaboratively with the UNH Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center. The newly hired staff member coordinated local and regional aquaculture efforts, helping six commercial fishermen apply for permits to begin raising steelhead trout off the N.H. coast and in the Great Bay Estuary. Two individuals have applied for permits and begun to raise American oysters, and one entrepreneur is in the process of obtaining a shellfish growers permit from the state. In addition, two N.H. commercial fishermen are continuing their efforts to raise blue mussels in offshore waters.


Sea Grant Extension continues to be a partner in the UNH/NOAA Atlantic Marine Aquaculture Center (AMAC), which has been developing the technology to grow finfish and shellfish in deep water environments. With guidance from Sea Grant and AMAC staff, two fishermen have deployed 10 submerged blue mussel longlines using this new technology. There are now about 30-50,000 pounds of mussels ready for harvesting and processing.


Sea Grant Extension is a collaborator on the $3 million/year UNH Open Ocean Aquaculture Demonstration Project that has been developing the technology to grow finfish and shellfish in deep water environments. Recently, scientists working on this project have perfected the techniques to economically grow blue mussels on long line rope culture. Extension staff provided guidance to two local fishing cooperatives on gaining commercial scale permits for blue mussel culture. The first ever permits in NH state waters allow for the deployment of 10 submerged longlines. Currently, four are in the water and have mussels growing on them with harvest anticipated in the fall of 2006.

Recently, NHSG provided information on OOA blue mussel aquaculture to scientists from Salem State College in Massachusetts. Based on follow-up meetings, these scientists plan to develop a demonstration project in collaboration with the Gloucester, Mass., fishing industry to explore the potential for such ventures in the Cape Ann, Mass., area.


In his role as a Sea Grant Extension educator, Rollie Barnaby is closely involved with the UNH Open Ocean Aquaculture Demonstration Project. Over the past four years, researchers have developed techniques to successfully grow blue mussels on longlines in deep water (135’). This past year Barnaby assisted two NH fishing cooperatives in obtaining all necessary state and federal permits for five blue mussel longlines. Four of these longlines were deployed and seeded in the fall with harvest expected in late 2005.


Sea Grant Extension Educator Rollie Barnaby continues to serve as one of the three Executive Managers for the UNH Open Ocean Aquaculture Demonstration Project (OOADP) that currently includes 10 UNH researchers, two private companies and scientists from four other universities. The project consists of both shellfish and finfish systems with a new, larger submerged cage installed this past year holding 30,000 codfish.

The shellfish portion of the project has proven blue mussels can be successfully grown in the open ocean environment and Barnaby has been working with commercial fishermen to help them start to grow mussels. It is anticipated that mussels will be growing under commercial scale, private sector operations at this time next year. A series of workshops in Rockland, Ellsworth, and Portland, Maine, were held this spring on growing mussels and a paper was presented at the National Extension Aquaculture meeting in Tucson, Arizona, in April 2003. Two fishermen and one fishing cooperative are working on permits at this time. Barnaby also visited four mussel farms in Newfoundland, Canada, this past summer and brought back information that will improve some of the things UNH is presently doing at their mussel culture sites.


Assistance was provided to 16 potential freshwater aquaculturists. One is attempting to develop his existing pond and build two or three more to raise largemouth bass. The demand for largemouth bass fingerlings is enormous, so this operation stands a good chance of being profitable. Another individual was provided assistance with a $40,000 USDA SBIR proposal to rear yellow perch in recirculating, in-pond tanks

Extension Educator JJ Newman organized a full-day program on “Aquaculture 101” for the recent Aquaculture America meeting in San Diego. Eighteen speakers covered all the basics of freshwater fish culture at a session that attracted 40 attendees. The Northeast Regional Aquaculture Center is paying for a CD to be made of the program for distribution.


Available from the National Sea Grant Library (use NHU number to search) or NH Sea Grant

Journal Article

  • Barnaby, R. and S. Adams (2002). Aquaculture: opportunity or threat to traditional capture fishermen. World Aquaculture: 13-15.


  • Growing seafood in the open ocean--offshore aquaculture in the United States (2006). Roland Barnaby.


  • Offshore culture of blue mussels--A component of the open ocean aquaculture demonstration project, version 2 (2003).

Information Sheet

  • Growing blue mussels on submerged longlines (2002). Roland Barnaby and Richard Langan.


  • Marine aquaculture in New Hampshire (2013). Michael Chambers.