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Discovery of Estuarine Environments

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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Todd McLeish, 874-7892

Rhode Island’s marine economy is growing rapidly
URI expert says aquaculture, Quonset, marinas leading the way

KINGSTON, R.I. -- July 18, 2003 -- While the U.S. economy appears to be slowly turning around, the marine segment of the Rhode Island economy has been growing rapidly, according to the director of the Rhode Island Sea Grant Program at the University of Rhode Island.

Barry Costa-Pierce says that aquaculture production in the state, while still small compared to neighboring states, has increased by 60% since the state launched the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative in 2001. Funded by a $1.5 million federal appropriation, the initiative is a collaboration among state, university and industry leaders to further develop the aquaculture industry in Rhode Island.

Fish and shellfish processing is also growing, Costa-Pierce said, due primarily to companies that have recently located in the Quonset Point Commerce Park.

"Despite how densely populated the state is and the high potential for user conflicts, Rhode Island shellfish growers are producing very high quality products, which have the attention of the finest seafood restaurants in the country. As a result, the value of Rhode Island’s aquaculture crop is the highest in the nation on a per acre basis," Costa-Pierce said. The R.I. Coastal Resources Management Council reports that the gross value of the state’s aquaculture harvest in 2002 was $8,333 per acre.

"Rhode Island is leading the way with innovative management techniques and technological developments that make aquaculture and fisheries compatible with a crowded coastline. We need to continue to help develop coastal futures that include fisheries and aquaculture that are so much a part of our region’s social and environmental heritage and values," he said.

Among the new aquaculture techniques pioneered in Rhode Island are the use of upwellers to grow thousands of shellfish at little energy cost, installation of innovative shellfish rearing cages under boat docks at marinas, and the use of aquaculture cages as artificial reefs on the bottom of the Bay and lagoons.

One of the chief recommendations of the recent Pew Oceans Commission report is the development of sustainable aquaculture operations in appropriate coastal locations.

"Rhode Island is already doing what the report advocates," Costa-Pierce said. "We’re using methodologies that sustain the environment while allowing the economy to grow."

That’s also what is happening at Quonset Point.

"Now that the focus is no longer on developing a megaport at Quonset, marine businesses are stumbling all over themselves to get in there because of the availability of the clean waters of Narragansett Bay," he said. "Quonset is a seafood gold mine!"

Costa-Pierce points to companies like American Mussel Harvesters Inc., one of the largest shellfish processors in the country, which opened a facility at Quonset in 2002 in large part because of the availability of clean sea water.

"Our Quonset location offers us access to clean seawater for our shellfish holding systems, access to the shellfish resources of Rhode Island, and a land base for our shellfish farm in the Bay, as well as overnight access to the major cities in the United States," said Bill Silkes, president of American Mussel Harvesters.

Lund Marr Pelagics LLC, a whole fish freezing and packing company, recently announced its intention to build a 70,000 square foot facility at Quonset for freezing, packing and distributing locally caught herring and mackerel, and Pan Pelagic ASA, a multinational seafood company, plans to build a similar 62,000 square foot facility there as well.

In addition to the new and existing fish processing facilities at Quonset, boat building and related industries are also growing there. For example, Southeastern New England Shipbuilding Corp. plans to expand its lease at the Quonset Carrier Pier for its growing barge construction and ship repair business. And Galilee Cruises Inc. now offers sightseeing cruises and high-speed passenger ferry service to Martha’s Vineyard from Quonset. Discussions have been held to establish a large, environmentally sound marina adjacent to the industrial park.

"Using the clean water and the sophisticated infrastructure available there, many seafood businesses at Quonset are pioneers in their industries," Costa-Pierce said.

Other aspects of the Rhode Island marine economy are also in good shape. For example, tourism in the state has grown substantially over the long-term, and one of the major attractions is the state’s beaches and other marine resources.

Costa-Pierce encourages the state to take a hard look at investing more in this area. "Prudent investments in a knowledge-based economy that incorporate the wise stewardship of the environment pay off handsomely. Opening up closed beaches and shellfish beds, restoring fisheries, developing sustainable aquaculture, and reclaiming marine ecosystems and habitats are just as important economically as attracting new pharmaceutical or insurance companies."

For Further Information: Barry Costa-Pierce, 874-6802

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