PROVIDENCE, RI – In an effort to promote both economic recovery and environmental restoration in Rhode Island, U.S. Senator Jack Reed helped deliver $1.7 million in federal assistance for Ocean State oyster growers and expand federal aid to include eligible aquaculture producers.  The federal funds will be used to restore oyster reefs and create new oyster habitats throughout Narragansett Bay and coastal ponds while also helping shellfish growers facing economic hardship due to COVID-19 and the collapse in the market for shellfish during the pandemic.

Reed, a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, worked to bolster Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) in the latest version of the Farm Bill.  EQIP, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to agricultural producers to address natural resource concerns through an array of conservation practices.

This year, NRCS awarded $903,000 in EQIP funding to eight Rhode Island oyster farmers to restore oyster reefs in protected waters as part of the Rhode Island Oyster Restoration Initiative.  Under the program, oyster growers take young oysters known as “spat” attached to adult oyster shells (“spat-on-shell”) and transplant them to approved areas to enhance and restore reef habitat.  Improving the reef ecosystem improves water quality as the mature oysters help filter pollutants, benefits other marine creatures, and can help protect the shoreline from erosion as well.  Additionally, NRCS is awarding another $809,000 to nineteen local oyster growers to purchase surplus restaurant-sized oysters and provide much need assistance to shellfish growers whose business was negatively impacted by COVID.  The purchased oysters are released into the wild to further clean the bay and support a more sustainable, healthy ecosystem.

To further assist Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry, Senator Reed also helped convince the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to reverse course and make Rhode Island shellfish farmers eligible for financial assistance through round two of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP 2).  After the Trump Administration excluded shellfish farmers from the first round of CFAP aid, Reed successfully lobbied USDA to expand eligibility in the second round so Rhode Island shellfish farmers, like other agriculture producers on land, will be eligible for relief.  Up to $14 billion in CFAP funding was made available through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide relief payments directly to farmers, producers, and ranchers impacted by COVID.  Rhode Island’s agriculture industry, which has a later harvesting season than many other states, received approximately $222,000 under the first round of CFAP.

“Oysters and other shellfish are an important part Rhode Island’s heritage, economy, and environment.  This federal funding will help our economy and the recovery and restoration of Narragansett Bay and local waterways.  Oysters are a keystone species that help clean the water and their reefs provide a critical habitat for young fish, crabs, and other aquatic creatures.  So this is a smart investment in helping oyster growers survive the economic downturn and seeding oyster beds that can help both the Bay and the aquaculture industry thrive in the future,” said Senator Reed.  “Oysters are resilient and so are the hardworking people who farm them.  But they could both use a little help right now and I will continue doing everything I can to boost our economy and deliver federal relief to local businesses.”

Senator Reed, who urged USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue to expand CFAP to include shellfish growers, noted: “Shellfish growers were unfairly excluded from CFAP and USDA now recognizes that fact.  This policy reversal will help ensure that Rhode Island gets its fair share of agricultural relief funding.”

According to the latest statistics from the Coastal Resources Management Council (CRMC), Rhode Island is home to over 80 aquaculture farms which support over 200 jobs.  In 2019, those farms raised and sold over 8.3 million oysters with a combined values of over $6 million for Rhode Island economy.