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Documenting the Potential Benefits of Increased Shellfish Mariculture Production in South Carolina

In 2020, the S.C Sea Grant Consortium connected with interested parties from the state’s institutions of higher education to convene a Shellfish Mariculture Research and Workforce Training Working Group. The goal of this working group was to provide a forum for discussion on how best to supply the science and technical knowledge required to assist the shellfish mariculture industry in meeting production goals, as well as ensuring that mariculture production continues to be environmentally compatible, proactive in disease avoidance, and human use conflict is minimized. At the initial working group meeting, researchers discussed their interests and their research infrastructure. Institutional barriers to shellfish mariculture program development were identified to include: lack of suitable water adjacent facilities, lack of faculty expertise, lack of top-down university investment, and awareness gaps.

Currently, the oyster mariculture industry faces non-demand related constraints, one of which is the availability of local oyster seed. Oyster seed meant for mariculture production are most often produced in hatcheries. Several neighboring states have invested in publicly-funded hatchery infrastructure and mariculture research to help foster the sustainable expansion of the oyster mariculture industry in their respective states. An in-state publicly-funded hatchery or set of hatcheries in South Carolina might be one way to provide a foundation for ensuring the sustainable long-term expansion of the oyster mariculture industry in the state, as well as the added benefit of reduced oyster mortality and minimization of human health impacts through research conducted specifically in South Carolina’s coastal environment.

It was determined that a return-on-investment analysis for different scenarios of shellfish hatchery development would be useful in evaluating the potential for university shellfish mariculture research programs. The Consortium worked with partners from Coastal Carolina University to develop four different investment scenarios to evaluate. The Consortium then partnered with the University of South Carolina Darla Moore School of Business to estimate the current unmet demand for South Carolina produced mariculture oysters, and to develop cost data for input into an economic impact model.