May 12, 2015

Reed, Whitehouse & Langevin Announce $182,000 in Federal Funding for Oyster Study

Providence, RI – Today, U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressman Jim Langevin announced $182,000 in funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the University of Rhode Island (URI) to study the effects of food-borne disease outbreaks on Rhode Island oysters farmers.

The URI researchers hope to help the oyster industry – both in Rhode Island and nationwide – to better predict demand for oysters in the event of an outbreak of food-borne disease related to oyster consumption, and to find more effective ways of responding to public concern over illness. 

“I am proud to have secured federal funding to help local oyster farmers grow their businesses.  Last year alone, sales of farmed Rhode Island oysters rose nearly 24 percent.  As more oyster farms spring up across the state, and more Rhode Island oysters end up on plates and menus nationwide, we want to ensure the industry uses smart, sustainable management practices.  This federal funding will help URI researchers study and develop strategies to enhance the resiliency of Rhode island’s oyster aquaculture industry,” said Senator Jack Reed.  Since 2002, Reed has secured over $3.6 million in federal funding to hatch and support the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative.  He also included language in last year’s Appropriations report bill directing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to partner with research institutions on shellfish research.  Thanks in part to Reed’s efforts, there is currently a USDA shellfish geneticist based at URI studying ways to help boost commercial oyster farms.

“Seafood is one of the things Rhode Island does best, and our oyster growers in particular have earned a world-class reputation,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.  “Helping them to better understand the market for their product and respond to a major challenge they face will be a boost to our coastal economy.  I’m glad to see this federal funding being used to support an important Rhode Island industry.”

“Rhode Island is renowned both for its beautiful coastline and the delicious seafood harvested off our shores.  Aquaculture and commercial fisheries therefore represent an important employment sector and an industry that impacts so many other facets of life in the Ocean State,” said Congressman Jim Langevin, whose Food First Advisory Committee includes two oyster farmers and other representatives from commercial fisheries.  “Oyster farming continues to thrive and grow in Rhode Island, and in order for that trend to continue, we must support our fishermen as they navigate a challenging and ever-changing ocean climate.”

“Oyster farmers face two kinds of food borne disease-related risks: an outbreak risk in their own farm, and negative influence they face through markets when an outbreak occurs in a neighboring farm.  Our project focuses on the latter risk, and asks what Rhode Island oyster farmers can do to shield themselves from such adverse impacts.  This could also encourage Rhode Island farmers to pursue the best management practices in reducing the outbreak,” said URI assistant professor Hirotsugu Uchida.

The research will involve settingup a series of experimental oyster auctions across Rhode Island to gauge consumer demand.  Also, through partnerships with oyster industry and management institutions, it will explore how best to convey information about health risks to consumers through steps like labeling products.


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