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Aquaculture Center Explores Federal Waters for Solutions

Project gets financial backing from Legal Sea Foods restaurant owner

This story originally appeared in the 2017 edition of Impact magazine. Read the full publication here.

A study formulated by Salem State biology professors Mark Fregeau and Ted Maney Jr. uses 33 acres in federal waters off the Rockport coast to address a situation that shellfish suppliers and restauranteurs in the Northeast have been talking about for a while now. There is a strong demand for locally grown mussels that are better in quality and garner higher prices than imported mussels.

“Most of the mussels arriving in the U.S. come from Prince Edward Island,” points out Fregeau, a biology professor at Salem State for 27 years. “This study will determine the feasibility of harvesting mussels offshore.”

Fregeau reports that Salem State is monitoring the site through its NEMAC (Northeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center) facility located on the university’s Cat Cove campus. Every other week, the “Ocean Reporter,” a 44-foot fishing boat out of Rockport, captained by Bill Lee, transports Salem State researchers to and from the mussel farm. “We bring samples back to analyze,” Fregeau explains. “And we keep an eye on temperature and other environmental factors to determine what conditions exist out there.”

The demand for a locally grown sustainable shellfish supply has resonated with local restaurants. Legal Sea Foods owner Roger Berkowitz, a 2007 Salem State honorary degree recipient, is convinced of the benefits, and his restaurant has pledged $100,000 to the project. Fregeau says the Legal Sea Foods funding is covering the monitoring exercises of the “Ocean Reporter,” an important initial step.

“Given the pressure on wild stocks, aquaculture is the future,” notes Berkowitz. “We have to be investing in it, certainly from an educational standpoint, to help ensure the sustainability of our seafood.”

Additional support comes from George Carey, owner of Finz Seafood & Grill and Sea Level Oyster Bar on Wharf Street in Salem, as well as a second Sea Level Oyster Bar in Newburyport, who points out that when it comes to shellfish—oysters, soft shell clams and mussels—not only are the mussels the most durable, they are the most versatile. “There are 100 different ways to prepare mussels,” Carey notes. “This broadens their reach. An Italian restaurant can prepare them one way whereas another restaurant can go another way and the consumer loves having these choices. Mussels are perfect for a number of cuisines around the world.”

In addition to churning profits for the seafood industry, the Salem State project, which has the approval of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would also offer educational opportunities. The mussel site would serve as a field demonstration and open classroom for recruiting and training fishers. Fishers will also receive business support with the refinement of a business plan through Salem State’s Bertolon School of Business.

The university is offering more than just theory to its students,” adds Carey. “They’re offering experience. Big difference. There’s also an entrepreneurial aspect as the project is answering a need.”

According to Professor Maney, in the documentary film Ocean Frontiers III, “the U.S. is way behind the rest of the world in aquaculture. Salem State’s mussel farm is the first shellfish farm established in federal waters off the Atlantic coast. With the depressed fishing economics in the Northeast, this is a new avenue of revenue for fishermen. They could either set up full time, or this could supplement what they are doing now.”

The U.S. Department of Commerce and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) have set priorities to develop and expand aquaculture in the U.S. into federal waters. Salem State is on the cutting edge of this.

Ted Maney
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