What is aquaculture?

Aquaculture or fish farming, in the broadest sense, can be defined as the raising of marine and freshwater organisms under controlled conditions. This includes food fish and shellfish, cultured pearls, ornamental and aquarium fish, and plants for food, fuel, garden ponds and aquariums. Because the process is strictly controlled, farmers can help ensure the quality of the product and the predictability of the harvest. Some types of aquaculture are practiced in the open ocean and bays. Marine aquaculture includes products like mussels, clams, oysters, salmon, shrimp, flounder and cod.

Aquaculture plays an important role in meeting the dietary needs of an increasingly health conscious and growing population, As demand for fish and shellfish products continues to grow, farming can help supplement wild harvest to meet that demand. The United States aquaculture industry is subject to strict environmental and product safety standards.

Is clam farming environmentally friendly?

Yes. There are a number of federal agencies that oversee aquaculture practices including the Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the national Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Department of the Interior, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture in conjunction with Rutgers University has established a set of management practices for aquatic farms. These practices specifically address issues of water quality, wetlands protection, wastewater treatment, water supply, and non-native species. These practices are supplemented by an aquatic organism health management plan designed to protect the health of aquacultured stocks, the natural environment, and wild populations of finfish and shellfish.

What about the quality of the water?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protectionís Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring regularly tests our coastal waters for compliance with the National Shellfish Sanitation Program. The program also identifies and tracks any pollution sources impacting the Stateís coastal waters.

In addition to employing traditional sampling methods, the Bureau maintains a network of automated buoys that provide real time water quality sensing. The Bureau recently opened an Advanced Microbiology Laboratory to ensure that testing results are state of the art. As a result of efforts to help eliminate pollution and upgrade the quality of our waters, 90% of the Stateís coastal waters are harvestable for shellfish.

Why is aquaculture important to the future of our oceans?

Aquaculture is important to the future of our oceans because it can help to provide reasonably priced, good quality, highly nutritious food while helping to maintain the long-term sustainability of our wild caught fisheries.

In the United States rules and regulations have been developed to manage our wild caught fisheries so that future generations can enjoy the bounty of the sea. Additionally, a number of federal and state agencies oversee the aquaculture industry to help ensure that production methods maintain environmental integrity and protect wild fish populations.

The production of bivalve molluscan shellfish, such as clams and oysters, actually provides positive environmental impacts. Because of their three-dimensional structure, they form habitats for other bottom dwelling organisms adding to the important biodiversity of the marine environment. These habitats provide both homes and protection from predators. Molluscan shellfish also absorb nutrients from the water by filtering free-floating algae and particulate matter out of the water. This helps to maintain good water quality and minimizes the loss of oxygen. Good water quality and availability of oxygen are critical to the survival of other marine and aquatic organisms.

While clams and oysters are growing, they help to seed wild shellfish beds. Since it takes about three years to reach market size, cultured shellfish spawn up to two times before harvest, sending millions of larvae into the water column. Some of these larvae will set and reseed other natural areas.

How are clams regulated?

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has established water quality standards for the safe harvesting of shellfish and regularly monitors these areas to help ensure that water quality is within safe limits. As part of this program, the DEP routinely tests thousands of water samples and, in fact, New Jersey has more sampling stations than any other state on the East Coast.

There are conditions under which shellfish harvesting areas are closed quickly . One is if they fail to meet the necessary state and federal standards for water quality. The other condition under which they are closed is if some other form of pollution impacts the area, such as oil pollution. Shellfishermen are informed about such closings and the DEPís marine enforcement officers patrol the closed areas to help ensure that no shellfish are taken.

The New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services administers a certification program that requires all wholesale shellfish dealers to handle, process and ship shellfish under sanitary conditions and maintain records verifying that the shellfish were obtained from approved waters. By law, each bushel of shellfish must have a tag indicating that it was harvested from approved waters and handled by dealers licensed by the Department of Health. Shellfish samples are routinely collected from harvest areas, certified shellfish dealers and retailers for bacteriological examinations. Also, inspectors routinely check the shipping containers of shellfish to be sure that wholesalers are providing proper identification tags that show the source of the shellfish. This system allows the health agency to trace shellfish in the marketplace back to the harvest site.

New Jersey is an active participant in the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, a national program administered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to provide uniform adoption and enforcement of sound shellfish safety measures.

What about cholesterol in clams?

The good news is that clams are low in total fat, saturated fats and cholesterol. Earlier testing methods couldnít distinguish cholesterol from other sterols and it was mistakenly believed that all shellfish were high in cholesterol. More accurate testing methods indicate that clams are low in cholesterol. In addition, they are high in protein, important vitamins and minerals. Clams are a good source of iron, zinc, copper and B12 . Clams also contain important Omega 3 fatty acids that may play a role in preventing irregular heartbeat, reducing plaque build-up on the walls of the arteries, decreasing blood clotting, reducing blood fat, lowering blood pressure, and reducing inflammation.