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New Directed Study Group Guidelines

Rapid Response to Seafood Supply Chain Vulnerabilities by Assessing Direct Marketing Options in South Carolina

The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium (Consortium) is seeking faculty and their students to team up with Sea Grant Program Specialists to form a research-student-specialist study group to conduct and complete a rapid assessment and follow-up assessment of consumer preferences for direct marketing of farmed shellfish and local seafood. Teams from Consortium member institutions are invited to apply. Funding is available to support one faculty-student-specialist team to perform the work.


The Consortium is soliciting proposals to assess the potential for direct marketing of seafood in South Carolina to determine near-term consumer preferences that can be used for immediate decision-making and long-term resilient business strategies for the future. By way of a Consortium-initiated Study Group, the project aims to determine demand and consumer preferences for direct purchases of shellfish and other local seafood. Proposals are due November 24, 2020.

This opportunity has two phases. The first phase, revealing near-term consumer preferences for immediate decision-making is to be completed by February 19, 2021. The second phase, to be conducted in spring/summer 2021 and adapted to COVID’s impact on the industry’s supply chain at that time, will assess consumer preferences for long-term resilient business strategies and is to be completed by September 30, 2021. Results will be shared with all stakeholders in the region.

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium

The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium’s mission is to provide science-based information about the practical use and conservation of coastal and marine resources to residents, communities and businesses in order to foster a sustainable economy and environment for the state of South Carolina. The Consortium serves to support, improve, and share research, education, training, and advisory services in fields related to ocean and coastal resources. These program priorities fall within the context of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) National Sea Grant College Program Strategic Plan and the Consortium’s FY18-21 Strategic Plan.

Strength in Partnerships

Proposals are invited from faculty and graduate student teams to assess consumer demand for subscription-based seafood through a competitive proposal and internal review process. The faculty member(s) and student(s) will form a Study Group with a Consortium Program Specialist to complete the project. Applicants will be faculty/student teams from Consortium member institutions. Applicants will engage the Living Marine Resources Specialist, Graham Gaines, and other staff as appropriate to be member(s) of the Study Group before submitting their proposal, and could  involve Sea Grant communications staff as needed. We encourage project proposals which can become part of the student’s honors thesis or capstone paper, or serve as an earned-credit internship.


COVID-19 has caused many challenges for the shellfish industry, regionally and nationally. While farm-grown oysters and clams sell locally, most often they sell to restaurants and wholesale distribution channels which rely on visitors for sales. Before the pandemic, those restaurants bought directly from farmers and most of the product produced. Oyster growers in South Carolina have reported restaurant sales decreases of more than 50% through the summer of 2020. As a result, the industry is interested in diversifying its marketing strategies for cultured shellfish. Attempting to expand their markets, 34% of aquaculturists in the US implemented new direct marketing strategies in Q2 of 2020 alone, due to COVID impacts.[1] Amid the vulnerabilities to the business-to-business supply chain exposed by the pandemic, new sales strategies are needed to increase economic resiliency for shellfish producers in South Carolina. Yet currently there exists a shortage of information on the potential costs, risks, and rewards to investing in new marketing strategies. This project aims to reveal consumer preferences in regards to direct marketing of shellfish and seafood products, which will be used to inform the aquaculture industry and other stakeholders on the potential of direct marketing alternatives in South Carolina.


Direct Marketing

Direct marketing can take many forms (e.g., subscription based services, farmer’s markets, dockside sales, selling directly to restaurants), but the underlying principle is a simplified supply chain, reducing the number of transactions between harvester and end-user. However, adding an alternative supply chain in addition to traditional wholesale marketing requires a significant alteration of business strategy; labor, skillsets, equipment, and marketing and logistical operations all are modified – and these alterations may be expensive. A quick but comprehensive assessment of consumer preferences for direct sales of farmed shellfish and other seafood products would assist harvesters in the decision-making process of whether to integrate a direct marketing strategy into their business plan.

Direct marketing of seafood products is a common feature of Community Supported Fisheries (CSFs). CSFs are a trending model for seafood producers to organize in a way that directly connects seafood harvesters to their respective communities, and are generally lauded for the social, economic, and environmental benefits they provide, relative to traditional fishery supply chains. Seafood companies engaging in CSFs typically do so with goals of connecting directly with their consumers, promoting local seafood at premium prices, and supporting environmental sustainability. These goals align with SCSGC’s strategic plan goals, primarily Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture Goal 2: “A healthy domestic seafood industry that harvests, produces, processes, and markets seafood responsibly and sustainably.” While the promotion of CSFs is not within the scope of this study group, results from this research will help those shellfish producers interested in CSFs understand the potential benefits and risks in doing so.


The Consortium requests Study Group proposals which seek to investigate consumer preferences for subscription-based or other methods of direct sales of seafood products with a focus on farmed oysters and clams. Diversified marketing strategies have been identified in recent months as a priority among shellfish farmers and other seafood harvesters as a means toward achieving a more resilient industry and food-secure coastal economy. The objective of the assessment is to inform shellfish growers and other seafood harvesters in South Carolina about the economic potential of specific types of direct-marketing initiatives. Key findings will reveal opinions on types of seafood direct marketing methods (e.g., subscription-based services, farmer’s markets), desired species, perceptions of local seafood products, seafood consumption patterns (e.g., frequency, where seafood is obtained), and willingness-to-pay, among other consumer preferences and perceptions. Additionally, we recognize that the ongoing COVID-19 crisis has changed seafood consumption patterns for the time being; changes which may linger on into the future. The crisis has also altered the income for many South Carolina residents; therefore, it is expected that these concepts will be addressed in the assessment. Thus, we expect data collection and analysis to occur twice, in an immediate, Phase 1 assessment that can be used by growers in the current sales climate, and in a second, Phase 2 effort, after we have moved closer to a new normal for direct marketing. We anticipate tools such as stated preference survey methodologies at the household and/or retail level will be used for the work. Project tasks for the team should include research and analysis, development of outreach products, and a final report and one outreach event to inform local stakeholders (virtual/in-person) to present study findings.

Preparation of Proposals

Proposals should be detailed but not exceed 14 pages as detailed in the Outline for Study Group Proposals, and must identify the faculty member, affiliation, and interest in the project, and the graduate student member(s) and their interest and qualifications; include a discussion of the proposed approach to the project; and complete a budget form and budget justification. Funding should be used to support student(s) time, travel, and materials. Indirect costs (IDCs) are not allowable as the projects are supported by Sea Grant funding, but IDC can be used to meet the match requirement. The budget must include a 50% match in time, supplies, salaries, or IDCs, or a combination of some or all.

Available Funding

Applicants will apply for both phases, up to $45,000 total, with one or more students working on the project. The study group will engage the shellfish industry and partners between phases to determine any formative adjustments that will be made for Phase II. As noted, a match of 50% is required.

Electronic Submission of Full Proposals

The Consortium requires electronic submission of proposals. Proposals must be prepared and electronically submitted as Word and Excel documents. The Consortium also requests that a complete version of the full proposal be submitted as a combined PDF file. Proposals must be submitted by close of business on November 24, 2020 with the subject line “Rapid Response Shellfish” to

Indirect Costs on Sea Grant-funded Projects 

In the spirit of cooperation among Consortium member institutions, and in order to get the maximum benefit from Sea Grant funds available for its programs, it is the long-standing policy of the Consortium Board of Directors not to use Sea Grant funds to pay indirect costs to its member institutions; however, indirect costs may be used to satisfy the National Sea Grant College Program’s 50% matching fund requirement.

Review of Study Group Proposals

Proposals will be reviewed by Consortium staff to evaluate how well the proposal reflects the components specified in this request such as formation of study group, response to research question, user engagement, and adherence to funding available. Proposals will be reviewed by external evaluators for technical excellence including clarity of objectives, scientific methods and expected outcomes.

Proposal Timeline

  • Full Proposals Due at Consortium Office, Signed and Endorsed – November 24, 2020
  • Notification of proposal results – December 15, 2020
  • Start Date for FY20 Phase I – January, 2021
  • Phase 1 Report due – February 19, 2021
  • Start Date for Phase II – February 22, 2021
  • Phase 2 and Final Report due – September 30, 2021


Questions and discussion about individual projects should be addressed to one of the individuals listed below:

  • Graham Gaines, Living Marine Resources Specialist; 770-540-0315
  • Susan Lovelace, Asst. Director for Development and Extension; 843-953-2075