Virginia Sea Grant ● Virginia Institute of Marine Science ● Te College of William and Mary

Marine
resource
B u l l e t i n
Virginia
Volume 41, Number 1 Spring 2009
Predicting Storm Surge
in the Face of Climate Change
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
DR. JOHN T. WELLS
Dean and Director
Virginia Institute of Marine Science
School of Marine Science
The College of William and Mary
DR. TROY HARTLEY
Director
Virginia Sea Grant Program
TOM MURRAY
Director
Marine Extension Program
MARGARET PIzER
Editor
The Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin
is a publication of the Marine Exten-
sion Program of Virginia Sea Grant.
The magazine is intended as an open
forum for ideas, and the views ex-
pressed do not imply endorsement,
nor do they necessarily refect the
offcial position of Sea Grant or the
Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Cover: Hurricane Isabel came
ashore in September 2003, bringing
devastating foods to tidewater
Virginia. Photo © NASA
From the editor
— Margaret Pizer
I
n the spirit of the season, Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) is doing some
spring cleaning. To make sure our mailing list is spic and span, we’re ask-
ing you to return the postcard on the cover to renew your subscription to
the Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin and make any necessary changes to
your address. You can also sign up to receive our new electronic-only edition
to get an email notifying you when you can download the magazine from
our website. We’re hoping these eforts will help us reduce our efect on the
planet and cut down printing costs while continuing to deliver the coastal
and ocean news and information you expect from the Bulletin.
Other changes are also afoot this spring—the biggest being VASG’s new
strategic plan. A preliminary draft is now available on our website www.
vims.edu/seagrant. Check it out and let us know what you think.
As we look to the future, VASG is combining the best of our past pro-
grams and strengths with new initiatives aimed at tackling growing chal-
lenges such as adapting to climate change, advancing sustainable coastal
community development, and enhancing the resilience of communities in
the face of coastal hazards.
Tis issue of the Bulletin focuses on some of those current trends and on
VASG’s work to deal with them. We’ve been exploring ways to help Virginia’s
coastal communities prepare for the increased sea level rise and fooding risk
that come with global climate change, including funding outreach eforts
to local ofcials and emergency managers. Over the past several years, our
partners at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research & Extension Center
in Hampton have developed Spanish-language training programs that are
helping the seafood processing industry adapt to changing workforce de-
mographics. Our well-established aquaculture programs are continuing to
foster the growth of oyster aquaculture by developing and teaching innova-
tive culture methods.
Tese are just a few of the ways VASG is adapting to meet the pressing
needs of coastal communities and businesses. Don’t forget to check out the
“News from the Point” section of this issue to learn about more projects and
people we’re supporting, from our 2008 Knauss Fellows to 2009 research
grant recipients.
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
Virginia
Marine
Resource
Bulletin
Volume 41
Number 1
Spring 2009
Subscriptions to the Virginia Marine Re-
source Bulletin are available without charge
upon written request or by sending an e-
mail to vsgpubs@vims.edu. Comments and
questions may be directed to the editor at
804-684-7167.
COPYRIGHT ©2009
by the Virginia Sea Grant Program
The Bulletin is printed on recycled paper
using soy ink.
This work is a result of research sponsored
in part by NOAA Offce of Sea Grant, U.S.
Department of Commerce, under Grant
No. NA96RG0025 to the Virginia Institute
of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant
Program. The U.S. government is autho-
rized to produce and distribute reprints
for governmental purposes notwithstand-
ing any copyright notation that may ap-
pear here.
in this issue
Forecasting the Rising Tide.................................................................2
Coastal Virginia is one of the areas in the country most vulnerable to
sea-level rise. With help from Sea Grant, VIMS researchers are helping
Virginia communities predict and prepare for the increasingly frequent
foods that climate change and rising seas will bring.
Trabajadores..........................................................................................6
Te new workforce in seafood processing is a growing population of sea-
sonal migrant workers—almost all of them Hispanic. Virginia Sea Grant
is helping these workers and the foods they process stay safe by providing
specialized on-the-job training in Spanish.
Sowing the Seeds...............................................................................10
A technique called spat-on-shell is promising to take Virginia’s burgeon-
ing oyster aquaculture industry to the next level. A unique combination
of public and private partners have come together to make this promise
a reality.
News from the Point.........................................................................14
Te latest news from Virginia Sea Grant, including an interview with
Virginia’s Knauss Fellows about their year in Washington D.C., Blue
Crab Bowl, Hampton boat tax study, and recent grants awarded by Sea
Grant and the Virginia Fisheries Resource Grant Program.
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
Forecasting the
Rising Tide
Climate change hammers
home the need for better
water-level predictions.
I
n 2003, when hur-
ricane Isabel barreled
into Virginia, it brought thir-
ty inches of water into Danny
Bacot’s Ship Store at York Riv-
er Yacht Haven in Gloucester
Point. Isabel also brought some
important lessons that Bacot ap-
plies to his storm management
plans today.
“I would have never thought to
tie down a dumpster, but they foat if
they’re empty,” says Bacot. “In Isabel
we made a wild guess and moved all
the inventory to be the height of the
check-out counter or more. It turns
out it was the right wild guess, but
for a storm like Ernesto I only had to
move things up an inch or two.”
Sometime between Isabel and the
2006 storms, which included Ernesto
and an unnamed Northeaster that
barely got the Ship Store carpet wet,
Bacot started talking to John Boon,
a professor emeritus at VIMS, to
see if they could predict when the
shop was going to food. Te two
were able to determine bench-
marks based on past storms
for the water levels needed to
food Bacot’s store.
Now Bacot monitors
water levels and tides for
Gloucester Point on
the Tidewatch web-
site (www.vims.edu/
tidewatch) that
Boon main-
tains. “Ten
I make it
a point
by Margaret Pizer
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
the fact that rising base sea levels mean that even
less-severe storms can produce more damaging
foods. In one example of this efect, Boon, Wang,
and VIMS colleague Jian Shen compared the Au-
gust 1933 “storm of the century” at Hampton
Roads to Isabel, which was a category one storm
when it hit Virginia. Despite being a weaker
storm, Isabel brought maximum water levels that
were comparable to those seen in the 1933 storm.
Boon, Wang, and Shen attribute this to the fact
that the monthly mean sea level during Isabel was
about 1.4 feet higher, a diference that was mostly
due to sea-level rise during the intervening sev-
enty years.
How High is the Water?
Scientists like Boon and Wang can sometimes
speak in an alphabet soup of what they call “da-
tums,” the statistics they use to describe tides
and water levels. But to understand the factors
that go into determining where fooding will oc-
cur, you need to know just a few of these terms.
For example, Boon has determined that fooding
at York River Yacht Haven will occur when the
extratidal high water (XHW) at the Yorktown
Coast Guard Training Center is 2.5 feet. To un-
derstand what that means, we can take a look
at one of the graphs the Tidewatch website pro-
duces (next page).
Te system Boon and his collaborators, in-
cluding fellow VIMS professors John Brubaker
and Dave Forrest, and technicians Todd Nelson
and Tim Gass, have been working on is a network
of water-level gauges located at eight locations
around Chesapeake Bay. Te Tidewatch website
updates every half hour and shows astronomical
tides (in blue), observed water levels (in red), and
storm surge (calculated as the diference between
the two, in green) at each location.
XHW is defned as an observed water level
that exceeds the highest predicted high tide for
that location. Storms are the most obvious factor
that can cause water levels to exceed the predicted
high-tide level, and since most people in coastal
areas are prepared for the typical range of predict-
ed tides, fooding should only become a problem
when water levels rise into extratidal range. On
the Tidewatch graphs, XHW is measured as the
height above the highest tide predicted using as-
in my storm preparations to fnd John and ask
him what the water levels are going to do.”
While not everyone in coastal Virginia has
John Boon’s phone number (luckily for him),
Boon and several other researchers at VIMS are
hard at work on projects that aim to give everyone
the same type of predictive power that Bacot gets
from those calls. Boon’s goal is to add storm-surge
and water-level predictions to the Tidewatch web-
site, while his colleague Harry Wang is working
on computer models that can predict fooding at
the street level.
Te potential of these projects is huge—to
help all of us plan for and protect ourselves from
the efects of storms that are expected to bufet
our coasts with increasing frequency and more
devastating efects due to climate change and sea-
level rise.
climate change realities
“Te Chesapeake Bay has one of the longest re-
cords of sea level at Sewells Point and Baltimore
Harbor,” says Wang. Tese records have allowed
NOAA scientists to calculate that sea level in the
region has risen by an average of about four mil-
limeters per year relative to the land since 1928.
A recent report by the U.S. Climate Change Sci-
ence Program (www.climatescience.gov) suggests
a future scenario for the Mid-Atlantic region that
includes an additional sea-level rise of more than
three feet by 2100—an alarming possibility in a
place where many homes and businesses are al-
ready within inches of the high-tide line.
Not every region has such a long record of
water-level data, but a comparison of the data
that are available indicates that the Mid-Atlantic
has one of the highest rates of sea-level rise on
the East Coast. Scientists attribute this diference
to land subsidence in the region (we’re sinking),
which combines with sea-level rise due to global
climate change. Rising global temperatures con-
tribute to higher sea levels through melting of the
Antarctic ice cap and glaciers, as well as through
thermal expansion—as ocean waters become
warmer, they expand slightly and thus the same
amount of water takes up more space.
Warmer oceans can also lead to the formation
of more severe tropical storms and hurricanes, but
perhaps equally important for coastal Virginia is
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
tronomical models (called highest astronomical
tide or HAT).
“One of the things that we’ve been trying to
do is put something together that has all of the in-
formation that emergency managers might need
but is not so overly technical that people can’t get
their minds around it,” says Boon. Because the
storm surge is not always in phase with the tide,
that next extreme water level may not occur at
predicted high tide, Boon explains. “Tat phasing
can alter dramatically when you’re going to actu-
ally see your highest high water (XHW).”
“We’ve asked ourselves this question,” says
Boon, “if we knew something about what that
surge was going to do in the next twelve hours,
could we then add that on to our prediction of
the astronomic tide and come up with a forecast
of the next high water?” Storm surge predictions
are available from the National Weather Service,
and Boon is working to incorporate them into his
graphs (dotted green line). “We think that would
be very important to emergency managers,” he
adds. “We could tell them how high that next
extreme is going to be and when it is going to
occur at places where we have active water level
monitoring going on.”
testing the Models
Another beneft of the network of water gauges
that Boon and his colleagues maintain is that they
provide ground truthing for large-scale models
that show great potential for predicting how food-
ing will happen in the event of the next big storm.
Wang is working with a team of other researchers
on one such model that would provide city-block-
level predictions of inundation. Te model is the
product of the NOAA-funded Chesapeake Bay
Inundation Prediction System (CIPS).
Tides and water levels at Sewells Point, VA, during Hurricane Isabel. Observed water levels (red) are the
sum of astronomical tide and storm surge. Boon has added predicted storm surge (dotted green) and
used it to predict observed water level beyond the last observed data point on the graph (yellow). Key to
abbreviations: HAT=Highest Astronomical Tide, LAT=Lowest Astronomical Tide, MHHW=Mean High High
Water, MLLW=Mean Low Low Water, MSL=Mean Sea Level (averaged from 1983–2001), m30=Mean water
level (averaged over last thirty days).
4
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Time (September 15-September 18, 2003)
3.53 HAT
2.76 MHHW
1.35 MSL
0.00 MLLW
−0.69 LAT
1.87 m30
XHW 2:18 HAT+0.37
HAT+1
HAT+2
HAT+3
HAT+4
HAT+5
predicted XHW 15:06 HAT+4.79
observed
astronomic
storm surge
12hr forecast
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
protecting critical infrastructure like power grids.
With this in mind, the VIMS researchers are seek-
ing a variety of community collaborations.
Boon is hoping to work with the National
Weather Service and local meteorologists to get
accurate water-level predictions onto the nightly
newscast. He and Wang and their VIMS col-
leagues have conducted workshops in communi-
ties like Poquoson and Jamestown that are at risk
from fooding, and the scientists are working with
city engineers, planners, and emergency manag-
ers to help them take the efects of sea-level rise
into account in their development
and emergency management plans.
Brubaker, Forrest, and Boon have
also recently garnered Virginia Sea
Grant (VASG) funding for an outreach project in
Middlesex County that will include workshops
and demonstrations of the Tidewatch system to
emergency managers and other local ofcials.
VASG marine extension leader Tom Mur-
ray says facilitating these outreach eforts is a
natural ft. “Virginia Sea Grant supports this
outreach aimed at providing the most contem-
porary, local, science-based information to the
Commonwealth’s coastal communities. A bet-
ter understanding of the local risks arising from
the increasing intensity of coastal storms and
fooding will help residents and leaders develop
practices to reduce vulnerability and allow for a
quicker and more efective response when coastal
fooding occurs.”
Te challenge is to model fooding over a
large area, but with very fne resolution, explains
Wang. “A hurricane is on the order of 300 to
500 km wide, so you don’t want to wait until it
reaches your doorstep. You want to track it when
it’s far away. But the real impact—the scale of the
damage—is on the order of 100 meters, like a
home or a street.”
To meet this challenge, the model breaks up
a large area into a grid that is fnest over land, and
least fne over deep water. Within each section of
the grid, water levels are predicted based on wind
velocities and directions, tides, topography, and
water depth. “Once we simulate with the model,
we need to see how well we’ve done,” says Wang,
and this is where data from the water level gaug-
es come in. Wang can compare what his model
would have predicted during Isabel or Ernesto
with the actual data collected during the storms
at Sewells Point or other gauges. “Right now our
predictions are accurate to within about ffteen
centimeters (about six inches). Tat’s where the
uncertainty begins to kick in.”
One of the limiting factors for these models
at the moment is the availability of good topo-
graphic data. Te output of the model at the
street level is only as accurate as the data fed into
it about the contours of the land.
Wang’s ultimate goal is similar to Boon’s—
to help coastal residents and emergency managers
prepare for storms. “Eventually we’d like to gener-
ate fooding maps in real time, but a lot of work
and investment will be needed,” says Wang.
Putting science to Work
Te modeling and predictions that Wang and
Boon are working on have real, practical efects
for coastal residents. When a storm approaches,
Danny Bacot has to decide how to manage a va-
riety of things, from how high he moves his mer-
chandise to whether to haul out boats from his
marina. “Do I go ahead and reserve the carpet
vacuums or not?” Bacot asks with a smile. “Tose
are the types of decisions that I make using John’s
information.”
All joking aside, storms like Katrina have
driven home the message that being able to plan
and prepare for storms has life-and-death implica-
tions—from evacuating nursing home residents to
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Flooding on Main St.
in Mathews, VA, during
Hurricane Isabel.
5
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
trabajadores
[trah-bah-hah-dor-ez] (n):
Te new workforce in Virginia
seafood processing.
by Phil Marsosudiro
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
JOHNNY GRAHAM IS A FOURTH-GENERATION sea-
food man. His great-grandfather was a fsherman,
and in 1955, his grandfather founded the com-
pany that became Graham and Rollins Seafood
in downtown Hampton. Graham recalls, “At our
height in 1991, we had four production plants
running 10,000 pounds of fnished crab meat per
day.” Te plant was full of locally grown workers
processing locally harvested crab. But things aren’t
like that anymore.
“During these down years, we’ve lost our local
laborers because there’s no steady employment,”
says Graham, now the company’s president. “So
we’ve had to turn to seasonal migrant labor.”
As is now common across Virginia, “seasonal
migrant labor” mostly means workers—trabaja-
dores—from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking
countries such as Honduras and Guatemala.
Te seafood producers like Graham vouch
that Hispanic workers are a vital solution for staf-
ing their seasonal positions, but of course this
new workforce presents new challenges. One of
the biggest is the language barrier, which makes
it more difcult to train and communicate with
workers about critical issues afecting their own
safety and the safety of the products they process.
Fortunately, when it comes to food safety,
Graham can rely on Abigail Villalba, food safety
specialist at Virginia Tech. Working through the
Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research & Ex-
tension Center (VSAREC), Villalba provides
bilingual training to both Spanish- and English-
speaking workers at Graham and Rollins.
“You’d be amazed at what needs to be men-
tioned,” says Villalba. In Latin America, for ex-
ample, toilet paper goes into a waste bin instead
of the toilet to protect the plumbing. Here, of
course, the papeles higiénicos go down the drain to
protect against germs. Who’s going to know that
such a thing needs to be explained, or how to say
it, if they don’t know the language and culture?
not Your Grandfather’s Picking House
It’s no secret that the Spanish-speaking popula-
tion in Virginia has grown tremendously over
the past decades. Villalba points to U.S. Census
data showing that Virginia’s Hispanic popula-
tion tripled from 152,000 in 1990 to more than
460,000 in 2006, now representing more than
six percent of the state’s population. According to
the American Community Survey, approximately
one third of Virginia’s Hispanics in 2006 were im-
migrants (as distinct from permanent residents or
citizens).
During the same time, changes in the seafood
industry have led to declining employment pros-
pects for local watermen. Adding to the pain, it’s
hard to get enough skilled staf during the short-
ened crab season that is no longer year round, but
lasts only from early spring through autumn.
“We’ve lost a lot of watermen,” says Graham.
“Te crab industry shrank by ninety-fve percent
since the late mid-80s when I remember there
were more than seventy-seven crab processors in
business. Now there’s less than ten, and
only three of us have more than a dozen
year-round staf.”
In Reedville, Little River Seafood
has employed seasonal Hispanic or Latino work-
ers since the late 1980s. President Greg Lewis
says, “the frst year we hired around ten Latino
workers. Ten we kept increasing until we re-
cently had as many as sixty at peak season in July.
We still have ffteen or so Americans, mostly in
processing and packing instead of picking. But
every year they get fewer. Some retire and we
don’t get many new ones.”
In Sufolk, the Wanchese Fish Company hires
as many as 100 Latino workers between late spring
and autumn. Matt Nowicki, Wanchese’s quality
7
by Phil Marsosudiro
Abigail Villalba instructs
employees at Little River
Seafood.
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control manager, says that recruiting is a family
afair. “Of our 100 Latino workers, sixty-fve or
seventy come from just three major families that
have a long relationship with the company. Broth-
ers, sisters, or cousins—they come for three or
four years in a row. One great advantage is that
because so many work here for years, they know
what needs to be done.” According to Nowicki
and Lewis, most of these workers earn between
$10 and $12 an hour and they often work over-
time during the busiest part of the season.
Trough Villalba, the VSAREC is helping
these seafood processors make sure their Spanish-
speaking staf will keep their prod-
ucts safe from bacteria and other
contamination. “I am happy I can
fll this need,” she says. “In 2006, we did a survey
of food producers to ask what they needed from
us. Tree of the big things they asked for were (1)
customized training, (2) on-site training, and (3)
bilingual training.”
Villalba was prepared to deliver all three. “I
grew up in Puerto Rico in a Spanish-speaking fam-
ily and came to Virginia Tech in 2006 after many
years working in food safety for the federal govern-
ment, so I had the right background for this.”
talking about safety
In any language, product safety is always an issue.
Johnny Graham takes note of the recent peanut
plant closing in Georgia because of Salmonella.
“All it takes is one recall and more than likely
you’re going to be out of business. You don’t get
multiple chances.”
As a long-time seafood producer, Graham
knows how hard it is to keep his crab product safe.
It’s challenging enough under any circumstance,
but when the majority of his staf don’t speak Eng-
lish, it’s even harder. “Some folks are under the
impression that we can run things with fash cards
that have generic commands like ‘shovel crab,’
‘give me a box,’ or ‘here comes a boat.’ But it’s not
realistic to think we can operate that way.”
Tat’s why Villalba’s recent addition to the
staf at VSAREC has been such a boon for area
seafood processors. “It’s just been a win-win situ-
ation for us,” says Graham. “She’s a scientist who
understands our industry, and she’s fuent in
Spanish, which is essential with Mexicans as our
primary workforce.”
Villalba has conducted numerous Spanish-
language training sessions for Virginia seafood
processors. “But always also in English,” she says,
“I won’t do Spanish-language only training because
everyone is responsible for the safety of the prod-
ucts regardless of the language they speak. Even if
90 percent of the workers are Spanish-speaking, I
still want to do the English-language training.”
Matt Nowicki at Wanchese appreciates the ef-
fort. A native of Poland, he holds a master’s degree
in animal bioengineering and he knows the im-
portance of appropriate training. Nowicki says of
Villalba, “Not only does she know our industry,
she’s also authoritative because she’s from the gov-
ernment. She’s also an expert trainer who isn’t one
of our regular staf, so people pay attention when
she speaks,” whether in Spanish or English.
Nowicki also praises the customized train-
ing. “Before Abigail comes, I prepare a list of the
things we may need to emphasize at the moment.
Maybe we want to focus on cross-contamination
between raw and cooked products. Maybe we’ve
had some issues with certain types of equip-
ment. Abigail changes her training to make sure
we focus on the most important things.” Tings
would be difcult without Villalba, says No-
wicki. “If we had to do the training ourselves,
the programs would not be nearly as good, and
would take much longer to develop.”
Johnny Graham also appreciates the custom-
ized help. “When we’re running 24 hours a day
8
Sign posted at Little River
Seafood in Reedville, VA.
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Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
and updating. Tis type of training helps keep our
Virginia products safe and high quality, and that’s
why Virginia has one of the nation’s highest com-
pliance rates for FDA inspections.”
With luck, there may be funding to add
more bilingual staf like Villalba for all the
training needs in Virginia. “We
want to provide better training
materials in English as well as
Spanish for all kinds of food in-
dustries—not just seafood,” she
says. “Tis is a big efort, and we’re way behind
on reaching the diverse audience we have. We
need to provide them with the resources they
need. Tey want to do a good job. But if we
can’t take the time to explain things in their
language and at their educational level, we’re
out of luck.”
9
during the summer, we need a qualifed quality
control supervisor on each shift. Abigail ofered
the higher education and extra training to qualify
my people for the job, so now I can have enough
key people to work these shifts while other key
people are in bed. And it’s very satisfying to the
Food and Drug Administration and the state
agencies when we can document the training that
we’ve done, and when they know that it’s been
provided by Abigail who they trust.”
concerns for the Future
Te training opportunities ofered by VSAREC
are undoubtedly helping the seafood industry deal
with the challenges of a mostly Spanish-speaking
migrant workforce. However, seafood processors
are increasingly worried that their real problem
will be getting their staf here to work at all.
As Lewis of Little River Seafood explains,
“For the last three or four years, we’ve had a lot
of difculties getting workers for the seafood
industry under the H2-B visa program. After
9/11, the government started enforcing a cap
that they hadn’t before, with a limit of only
66,000 H2-B visas for the entire country.” For
several years after 9/11, Congress made some ex-
ceptions to the cap—through annual legislation
that allowed companies like Little River Seafood
to bring back seasonal workers who had an es-
tablished history of working with the processor.
But for the last three years, Congress hasn’t re-
newed the legislation. “So we’ve been competing
against hotels, landscapers, and every other em-
ployer that also wants the H2-B workers,” says
Lewis. “Last year, we lucked out and got ours
where others didn’t. We got some for this year
but probably won’t get as many as we want. It’s
hard to say just yet.”
Te lack of access to labor is bad news all
around, adds Lewis. “Put it this way—if we
couldn’t get the Mexicans, we’d be out of the crab-
picking business. And then we wouldn’t have jobs
for Americans, either.”
Assuming that immigration problems don’t
push her clients into a downward spiral, Villalba
plans to continue with the training—in both Span-
ish and English. VSAREC Director Dr. Michael
Jahncke explains, “Even for workers who come
back year after year, there is a need for refreshment
Above and on page 6:
Workers pick and pack crab
at Little River Seafood. Photos
© Abigail Villalba/VASG
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
spat-on-shell and the future of Virginia oyster aquaculture
soWinG tHe seeds
by Phil Marsosudiro,
with additional
reporting by
Margaret Pizer
juvenile oysters (called spat) on each of the old shells,
just like they would do in the wild. Ten you take the
bags of spat-on-shell and place them on leased bottoms
in the open water. If all goes well, in about a year-and-
a-half you’ll be harvesting full-grown oysters, ready for
shucking.
“It’s almost like following a recipe,” says James Wes-
son, PhD, of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission
(VMRC). But he adds that if you want to make a living
from it, you need three things: First, you need the proper
ingredients; second, you need to work with care and skill;
and third, you need an environment that will support
your eforts.
Te Proper ingredients
Virginia’s frst experiments with spat-on-shell date back
to the 1980s. But at the time, the pieces weren’t all there
to make it work. “Disease was widespread, and we didn’t
yet have a broodstock of disease-resistant oysters” that
could grow to market size in sufcient quantities to jus-
I
t looks like a dirty baseball sitting under wet paper tow-
els in a cooler, but it’s actually a bundle of live oyster
larvae, some 20 million of them, purchased for $4,000.
Michael Congrove—Remote Setting Extension Agent
for the Virginia Seafood Council—lifts them out of the
cooler and puts them gently into a bucket of clean seawa-
ter. He gives them a stir and waits, then pulls a few out
and places them under his microscope to check their bel-
lies (dark means they’re well-fed) and to make sure their
gills are clear. If the larvae are healthy and they’re treated
well for the next eighteen months, there’s a decent chance
that they’ll turn into 600 bushels of oysters. Sell them at
$25 a bushel, and that’s a $15,000 home run of a $4,000
baseball.
Tis is the dream of spat-on-shell oyster cultivation.
As aquaculture techniques go, spat-on-shell is not
very complicated. You take a 10-foot diameter tank of wa-
ter, drop in bags of old oyster shells, add a large batch of
larvae, and wait a few days. If you’ve done it right, ten or
so larvae will have settled and metamorphosed into tiny
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
tify the spat-on-shell efort, says Wesson. So Vir-
ginia had to put the idea aside while they worked
on improving the broodstock.
“First, we’ve developed a disease-resistant oys-
ter,” says Wesson. It isn’t immune to disease, but
it can stay healthy long enough to get to market
size, and that’s all that is needed. “Second, we’ve
learned how to breed triploid oysters—sterile oys-
ters that put all their energy into a fast growout,
and none into breeding.” Tese improvements
have put spat-on-shell back on the table and
locked in the frst key ingredients for a Virginia
oyster revival.
“Right now, most of the shucked oysters that
we ‘produce’ in Virginia are shipped in from the
Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere,” says Wesson.
Tey’re a more expensive and less reliable source.
For favor, for predictability, and for proft, “we
want to produce oysters that are grown in Vir-
ginia, not just shucked in Virginia.”
Mastering the technique
After Virginia developed better broodstock and a
suitable technique for cultivation, the next step
was to put spat-on-shell into practice. In 2005,
a dozen oyster producers began working with
VIMS, VMRC, and other partners to see how
spat-on-shell would work for them. After three
years of progress, they decided to cross the thresh-
old from pilot projects into independent com-
mercial production.
To help the producers make this transition
happen, Virginia’s Fishery Resource Grant Pro-
gram provided funds for Congrove to work with
them intensively for one year. In 2008, Congrove
helped each company run several sets of spat-
on-shell production—from tank preparation to
larvae-setting to planting the spat-on-shell in
Virginia waters. With each set, commercial staf
acquired more skill and sophistication with the
technique, until the end of the year when all of
the participating frms were ready to conduct
spat-on-shell cultivation without help from Com-
monwealth staf.
“Te collaboration really got us of the
ground,” says A.J. Erskine of the Bevans Oyster
Company. While he and his peers might have
started spat-on-shell by themselves, Erskine says,
“Our progress would have been much slower and
would have cost much more. Because Virginia
backed us up with technical and fnancial sup-
port, the opportunity was a lot more tangible.”
Rufus Ruark Jr. of the Shores and Ruark Sea-
food Company echoes Erskine’s comment: “We
already knew about the technique because it had
a long history elsewhere.” But for his own com-
pany? “Seeing is believing, and seeing how it did
work (not just how it might work) was what ev-
erybody learned. I’ve learned a lot about the larval
end of it. At frst it felt like,
‘just put the larvae in with
the shell? Tat’s not gonna do
anything,’ But then we pull
our shells up several days lat-
er, and lo and behold there’s
ffteen oyster on it.”
“Once I see that I can
make money of it, I’ll go of
on it,” says Ruark. “But the
Commonwealth setting us
up with the program is a big
help—a real deciding factor.
And the continuing help that
they give us is a big thing.”
supportive environment
Te fnal piece of the puzzle
for Virginia oyster growers has
been a supportive economic
and regulatory environment
that has helped encourage
both small- and large-scale
aquaculture eforts.
Although spat-on-shell
aquaculture for shucked oys-
ters is new, Virginia has more
than a decade of experience
in aquaculture for individual
oysters that are sold on the
half-shell market. Aquacul-
ture for individual oysters is a much more labor-
intensive and expensive process than spat-on-shell
aquaculture. But the resulting product (which is
sold in the shell, unshucked) can be sold for a
much higher price.
Annual sales of Virginia-grown aquacultured
oysters (half-shell and shucked) increased six-fold
over the three-year period from 2005 to 2007.
Several large commercial growers got in on the
action—either adding aquaculture to shucking
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Facing Page: Watermen plant spat-
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Congrove.
Top: Ball of eyed oyster larvae.
Bottom: Eyed oyster larva (about
200 times actual size).
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the oyster industry. “Tis state
has a lot of private individu-
als who run hatcheries and do
a really good job, and they’re
willing to increase volume as
the demand dictates.”
In addition to hatcher-
ies, shucking houses are an
important component of the
supportive environment in
Virginia. In other East Coast
states, many shucking houses
went out of business as natural
oyster harvests declined in the
second half of the twentieth
century, but in Virginia, the shucking houses be-
gan trucking in oysters from the Gulf Coast and
were able to stay afoat.
Now, as aquacultured oysters are on the rise,
these shucking houses are a natural place for those
oysters to go. “Because we have shucking houses
around here, we automatically have another mar-
ket” for individually grown oysters that might not
be suitable for the half-shell market because of
their size or quality, says McMinn. Tose shuck-
ing houses are also a natural market for spat-on-
shell oysters from Virginia, and many of them are
getting into the spat-on-shell oyster cultivation
business themselves.
Te Forecast
For all the progress they’ve made thus far, Virginia
scientists and oyster producers are far from know-
ing that spat-on-shell will be a guaranteed suc-
cess. Disease, pollution, weather-driven changes
in salinity, and predation from the cownose ray
remain as known risks or wildcards that could de-
rail the potential of spat-on-shell production in
Virginia.
Despite the uncertainties, commercial pro-
ducers remain hopeful.
“We’ve already been working with some of
the guys on better systems” for spat-on-shell, says
McMinn. “Te more we do to farm raise, wheth-
er it’s spat-on-shell, whether its cage, whatever
you’re doing, it takes pressure of the wild stocks.
I think spat-on-shell is going to be a great thing
for restoration.”
At Kellum Seafood, Vice President Tommy
Kellum says, “at this point, spat-on-shell is pro-
ducing maybe 10,000 bushels a year for us. It’s
12
A group of Virginia scientists and seafood
companies collaborated to produce “A Practi-
cal Manual for Remote Setting in Virginia,” a
booklet that outlines a step-by-step process
for obtaining oyster larvae, getting them to set
on shells, and growing them out to harvest-
able sizes.
The manual was written by Michael S.
Congrove of W.E. Kellum Inc. and the Virginia
Seafood Council, Dr. James A. Wesson of the
Virginia Marine Resources Commission, and
Dr. Standish K. Allen Jr. of VIMS with collabora-
tion from ten Virginia seafood companies and
funding from the Virginia Fishery Resource
Grant Program, which is administered by the VIMS Advisory Ser-
vices department.
The ten seafood companies that participated in the project are:
Bevans Oyster Company •
Cowart Seafood Corporation •
J&W Seafood •
Kellum Seafood •
Mobjack Bay Seafood •
A Practical Manual
houses or starting new commercial aquaculture
enterprises. Oyster hatcheries have also opened
in several parts of the state, and the expanding
Eastern Shore oyster aquaculture landscape now
includes a major hatchery.
Oyster growers like Doug McMinn, who
founded his Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company in
2003, say the motor behind the success of Virgin-
ia oyster aquaculture has been steady growth in
the market for Chesapeake Bay oysters, the avail-
ability of local shucking houses, and the support
of state institutions like VIMS that have helped
develop the science to set oyster growers on the
right track.
“I think part of why the [aquacultured] clams
have done so well and why oyster farming now is
doing well is because the state was in at the begin-
ning to help come up with some of the technol-
ogy but then the guys had to start putting down
their own money and putting themselves on the
line,” says McMinn. “Tey’re not going to walk
away from the buck that they put down without
a fght.”
McMinn thinks Virginia has reached the
right public-private balance to foster growth in
Purcell’s Seafood •
Sea Farms •
Shore Seafood •
Shores and Ruark Seafood •
Terry Brothers •
The manual is available for free online or for $10 in print. Go to
http://web.vims.edu/adv/frg/ or email vsgpubs@vims.edu.
© Michael Congrove
Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009 13
certainly in a juvenile stage for us. But given the size of our
leased acreage, we could get to a point where ffty to sixty
percent of our oyster supply would come from spat-on-shell
in fve to eight years. With spat-on-shell, I can actually see
us generating enough oysters to keep the plant running year
round, with 100 people working.”
Rufus Ruark Jr. sums it up. “I think this is something
everyone’s gonna be happy with.”
The Commonwealth has a strong record of supporting the
science and training needed to help oyster growers succeed.
In the coming years, Virginia may also have the opportunity
to provide incentives for both amateur oyster gardeners and
commercial aquaculture operations based on the benefts
oysters provide to the environment by fltering and cleaning
Chesapeake Bay waters.
One simple incentive would be a tax credit for Virginia
residents who grow oysters off of backyard docks or foats.
In the 2009 session of the Virginia General Assembly, a bill to
establish such a credit was put forward by Senator Ralph S.
Northam who represents District Six, including Accomack,
Northampton, and Mathews Counties and parts of Virginia
Beach and Norfolk.
“If people get involved by putting an oyster foat out,
the next thing you know they might realize maybe they don’t
need as much fertilizer on their lawn,” says Northam, arguing
that an awareness of the nitrogen, phosphorous, and other
pollutants that oysters help remove from the water would
have cascading effects on the behavior of coastal residents.
Although the bill had to be withdrawn due to this year’s bud-
get crisis, Northam plans to reintroduce it in the future.
A second incentive would encourage large-scale oyster
aquaculture by providing “nutrient credits” to oyster grow-
ers based directly on the pounds of nutrients removed from
Bay waters.
One way to create monetary value for a credit is through
nutrient trading. Nutrient trading is already on the books in
Virginia. Passed by the state legislature in 2005 and slated
to become mandatory in 2011, the system limits nitrogen
and phosphorous output from point sources like wastewater
treatment plants. Plants that exceed the limit can buy credits
from others whose output is below it.
Point sources can also balance their emissions by buy-
ing nutrient offsets from point or non-point sources. The
Department of Environmental Quality has approved several
types of agricultural offsets. For example, farmers can gener-
ate offsets by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizer or by
leaving some of their land untilled.
A team of researchers, including Kurt Stephenson of
Virginia Tech, Alex Miller at the Gulf States Marine Fisher-
ies Commission and Bonnie Brown and Colleen Higgins at
VCU are researching ways that oyster growers could gen-
erate nutrient credits. Oysters remove nutrients from the
water by flter feeding. When the oysters are harvested, the
nutrients they’ve eaten and incorporated into their tissues
are permanently removed from the water. Oysters also ac-
celerate denitrifcation, which transforms nitrogen into a
gas that is biologically unavailable.
Stephenson and Miller say that one major obstacle to
incorporating oyster aquaculture into the nutrient trad-
ing system is the complicated science required to quantify
how much nitrogen oysters remove—which can depend
on the size of the oysters, where they are grown, and a
variety of other factors. If these issues can be overcome,
nutrient credits promise yet another source of support for
commercial oyster aquaculture operations. Oyster grow-
ers like Jack White, owner of New Point Oyster Company,
hope that Virginia will be able to include oysters in its nu-
trient trading system. “The time is ripe to recognize the
role shellfsh can play in cleaning up the Bay” and to make
that recognition pay for oyster growers, says White.
Crediting Oysters for
Helping Clean the Bay
Below: Doug McMinn checks one of his oyster cages in the
Rappahannock River. Photo © Margaret Pizer/VASG.
Facing Page: Spat-on-shell.
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant 14
2008 Knauss Fellows from Virginia. From left Bret Wolfe, Chris
Hayes, former NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lauten-
bacher, Frank Parker, and Abigail Lynch. Each year, the Knauss pro-
gram sends graduate students from the Sea Grant states to Washington,
D.C. for a year-long experience working on coastal, ocean, and Great
Lakes issues in the legislative and executive branches of government. We
caught up with Virginia’s 2008 recipients as their fellowships concluded
to fnd out how things went.
First, a little background on the fellows:
Frank Parker has an MS from Florida International University
and is working on fnishing a PhD from VIMS. His PhD research
focuses on carbon and nitrogen cycling in estuarine sediments.
During his Knauss Fellowship, he served as special assistant for the
Deputy Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s Ofce of Oceanic and
Atmospheric Research.
Abigail Lynch spent the year working as an executive fellow in
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Fisheries Program. Be-
fore the fellowship, Abigail got an MS in marine science at VIMS,
studying fsheries genetics, and she will begin a PhD program at
Michigan State in the fall.
Bret Wolfe worked in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National
Wildlife Refuge System Marine Program during his Knauss Fel-
lowship. Before that, he was a graduate student in environmental
sciences at UVA.
Chris Hayes has an MS in fsheries science from Virginia Tech,
where he studied hammerhead shark populations of the East Coast.
During his fellowship, he worked at the National Marine Fisher-
Virginia Sea Grant has awarded $655,899
in support of seven new coastal and marine
research projects:
Dynamics of ichthyoplankton ingress
Every year, tiny larval fsh move from the off-
shore Atlantic into the Delaware and Chesa-
peake bays. Eric Hilton and John Olney of VIMS
will identify patterns in the timing and abun-
dance of shelf-spawned fsh larvae that move
into each bay and discern whether there are
different physical mechanisms that infuence
differences in these patterns between the two
estuaries. The research is a continuation of a
Virginia—Maryland—Delaware partnership
that will allow more complete and robust con-
clusions on the factors infuencing variation in
the abundance of the commercially and recre-
ationally important fshes studied.
Thermal inactivation of bacteria in seafood
Salmonella sp. and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are
the two leading sources of foodbourne illness
caused by seafood. Michael Jahncke and Kumar
Mallikarjunan of Virginia Tech will determine
the temperatures necessary to kill or inac-
tivate three strains of each of these disease-
causing bacteria. Consumers and industry will
beneft from knowledge of the proper times
and temperatures required to cook seafood to
destroy pathogens.
Uptake and elimination of contaminants
from hard clams and oysters
Clams and oysters grown in urban waterways
are at risk of contamination with disease-caus-
ing organisms from sewage-treatment effuent
and runoff. One meth-
od used to reduce
contamination levels
involves moving the
live shellfsh to an un-
contaminated water-
way for a short time
peri od before har-
vesting them. Howard
Kator, Kimberly Reece, Corinne Audemard,
and Martha Rhodes of VIMS will determine
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Volume 41, Number 1 u Spring 2009
whether this is an effective method for the
elimination of viruses and bacteria from clams
and oysters naturally contaminated in Hamp-
ton Roads waterways.
New reproductive norm for the blue crab
For over ten years, the blue crab population in
Chesapeake Bay has been at historic low lev-
els and has not responded to bi-state manage-
ment regulations designed to curb overfshing.
Evi dence suggests
that this lack of re-
covery may be due to
changes in reproduc-
tive characteristics
such as the number
and quality of eggs
and sperm produced.
John McConaugha of
Old Dominion University will examine both
male and female reproductive changes that
may need to be considered in the design of
management policies for blue crabs.
Producing fungal biomass as fsh oil re-
placement in aquaculture
The fatty acids present in fsh oils are an es-
sential component of the diet of marine fsh
grown in aquaculture. However, fsh oils ob-
tained from wild fsh pose a risk of heavy metal
contamination, and depend on fsheries that
must be limited to protect wild fsh. Certain
fungal species produce omega-3 fatty acids
that could be used as an alternative to fsh oil.
zhiyou Wen, of Virginia Tech, will investigate
using crude glycerol derived from biodiesel
production as a cheap source of carbon for
growing omega-3 fatty acid rich fungi.
Effluent organic nitrogen in Virginia
coastal waters
Nitrogen levels released from waste-water
treatment plants are regulated in the Chesa-
peake Bay to help prevent high levels of ni-
trogen, which can lead to algal blooms and
other problems in the Bay ecosystem. Dif-
ferent chemical forms of nitrogen are more
or less usable by organisms (bioavailable) and
thus more or less harmful to the ecosystem.
Deborah A. Bronk of VIMS and Margaret Mul-
holland of Old Dominion University will study
the bioavailability of a subset of the nitrogen
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ies Service headquarters doing communications and outreach and
working with economists to study factors afecting seafood prices.
What parts of your Knauss experience stand out?
Frank Parker My job during my fellowship was to support the
Administrator and Assistant Administrator of NOAA Research. It
was a treetops view of the agency and an amazing opportunity. Te
level of exposure I got as a Sea Grant fellow is something you can’t
get any other way. I was able to see the landscape of the entire or-
ganization, and now that the fellowship is over I can go back and
dive into areas that were particularly interesting to me to learn more
about them.
Abigail Lynch I chose to do my fellowship in an ofce where I
knew I would also have a feldwork component because I knew
that I would want to be outside a bit, and I got to do an amazing
month-long trip to Alaska to col-
lect salmon samples and a num-
ber of other smaller trips locally.
Te Knauss Sea Grant Fellow-
ship was a much more reward-
ing experience than I ever could
have anticipated. As a graduate
student, I appreciated that policy
and communicating science was
crucial for fsheries management,
but as a fsheries geneticist, I had
no practical experience in the
policy arena. During my fellow-
ship, I gained practical experience with senior-level legislation and
policy development, communications and outreach, grant applica-
tion review, and data reporting to partners.
Bret Wolfe I got to act as marine program coordinator for the Na-
tional Wildlife Refuge System while my supervisor was on another
assignment and to represent the organization at international con-
ferences on coral reefs. I also got to work for a month at Midway
Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and for two weeks in the Honolulu
regional ofce.
Chris Hayes I worked in the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics
Program, which is a state-federal cooperative entity that is a one-
stop-shop for fsheries data for the Atlantic Coast. We standardize
data from diferent sources so that it can be used for stock assess-
ments. Te contacts are the most valuable things I took away from
the fellowship, as well as a better working knowledge of how fsher-
ies are managed in the U.S.
How do you think the year in d.c. will afect your future career?
Frank Parker I am still working in NOAA’s Ofce of Oceanic and
Atmospheric Research. Part of my portfolio involves transition-
Abigail Lynch conducting feld-
work in Alaska.
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
released by treatment plants in order to bet-
ter inform regulators about which types of ni-
trogen need to be most carefully controlled to
protect the Bay.
Climate change impacts in Virginia
In order to respond to the effects of climate
change in the Commonwealth, we need a bet-
ter understanding of what those effects might
be. Roger Mann, Carl Hershner, and Marcia
Berman of VIMS will
assemble and make
widely available in-
tegrated databases
describing past cli-
mate impacts on the
ecosystems and envi-
ronments of Virginia.
These databases can
be used for retrospective analyses of climate
change trends. The data may also allow re-
searchers to begin to make predictions about
climate change effects on ecosystems in the
Commonwealth, and to identify the economic
effects of those effects.
VASG has also funded one program develop-
ment grant and one regional project:
Conservation easements as a means of
sustainable building
This program development grant to Scott L.
Reichle of Old Dominion University will fund
a legal analysis of how conservation easements
can be designed to simultaneously provide: 1)
fnancial beneft to the developer; 2) benefts
to the end-users of the property; 3) overall
positive environmental impacts; and 4) accept-
able government impacts relating to issues
such as long-term maintenance issues and tax
consequences.
Forecasting the response of Delmarva
lagoons to changing land use and climate
This regional project, jointly funded by the Vir-
ginia, Maryland, and Delaware Sea Grant pro-
grams, will be carried out by Mark Brush and
Iris Anderson of VIMS; Lora Harris and Walter
Boynton of the University of Maryland Center
for Environmental Sciences; and Arthur Trem-
banis of the University of Delaware. The re-
search will aim to link nutrients to ecosystem
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16
ing applications from NOAA
Research into operations in the
National Weather Service. I’ve
learned about how things work
within both agencies. Long term,
I’m not sure I know at this point
what I want to do, but there’s def-
initely a draw to the mission-ori-
ented, applied science as opposed
to the basic science I was doing in
academia, and I think that’s more
in line with my future.
Abigail Lynch Tis experience
has provided me with a solid un-
derstanding of natural resource
management in the federal sys-
tem and has catapulted me into
a PhD program at Michigan State in fsheries and climate change
with an emphasis on policy and the human dimension. I’ll start in
the fall, working with one of the professors I worked with on the
National Fish Habitat Action Plan during my fellowship. I’ve made
more contacts within NOAA and FWS and other federal and state
agencies and NGOs than I ever would have expected in one year.
Bret Wolfe I am currently working temporarily in the same posi-
tion where I served my fellowship. I have made many contacts at
FWS, NOAA, and at NGOs. Tese will be great job contacts or
connections for whatever I may do in the future.
Chris Hayes I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship, and I’m enjoy-
ing what I’m doing now working with the same program. I may
think about going back and getting a doctorate at some point, but
for the time being I’ll probably pursue this work.
A survey of recreational boat
owners who make Hampton
their home port recently con-
cluded that these boaters bring
$55 million to the city and
help create nearly 700 full-
time jobs.
Te study, conducted by
Tom Murray and James Kirk-
ley of VIMS and Doug Lipton
of the University of Maryland,
was commissioned by the city
of Hampton. Te authors sur-
veyed both Hampton resi-
Boat tax study released
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Frank Parker working on his
graduate research at VIMS.
Hampton Marina.
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function, emphasizing the roles of submerged
aquatic vegetation (SAV), algae, and other pho-
tosynthetic organisms.
The Virginia Fishery Resource Grant Pro-
gram, administered by VIMS Advisory Services,
funds research by fshery-industry participants
aimed at reducing the environmental impacts
of fshing, restoring and protecting habitat, de-
veloping new aquaculture techniques, and de-
veloping seafood products to improve quality
and effciency. The program has awarded four
new grants totalling $243,831:
New products from cownose ray
Cownose rays are abundant in Chesapeake
Bay and are an important predator on oysters
and clams. C. Meade Amory of L.D. Amory Co.
will study the use of cownose ray meat and
cartilage and on the development of effcient
processing methods for rays.
Bycatch in Virginia’s spring striped bass
gillnet fshery
George Earl Trice will
test gear alterations
intended to reduce
bycatch of endangered
Atlantic sturgeon in
the gillnet fshery for
striped bass. The re-
search is a continuation of an ongoing study
of the effect of gear alterations on sturgeon
catch rates and whether the modifed gear are
as effcient at catching striped bass.
Channeled whelk assessment
Richard B. Robbins Jr. of Bernie’s Conchs will
study size distribution, sex ratios, and size at
reproduction in channeled whelks to help
managers design effective and sustainable size
limits for the whelk fshery.
Producing triploid oyster larvae using
heat shock
A.J. Erskine of Cowart Seafood Corporation,
will investigate heat shock as a method to pro-
duce triploid native oysters. Triploid oysters
are desirable for aquaculture because they do
not devote any of their food resources to re-
production and thus may grow faster and can
be harvested during spawning season.
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17
Bishop Sullivan wins Blue Crab Bowl
Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School of Virginia Beach repeated
as champions of the annual Blue Crab Bowl, a regional academic
competition that tests students’ knowledge of the oceans. Te team
earned the right to represent Virginia in the National Ocean Sci-
ence Bowl (NOSB©) in Washington, D.C., on April 25–27. Tere
the team faced 24
other regional cham-
pions from around the
nation. Tey won two
out of three of their
round-robin matches
and made it to the
third round of double
elimination—further
than any previous Vir-
ginia team has gotten
at NOSB©.
Tis year’s Blue
Crab Bowl, held at
VIMS, featured sixteen
teams representing
ffteen high schools
from all corners of
the Commonwealth.
Eighty students spent
the day in heated tournament competition focused on the marine
sciences. Grafton High School took second place. In third place
was Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School-Glenns Campus, followed
by Seton School of Manassas in fourth place. Seventy-fve faculty,
staf, and graduate students from VIMS and Old Dominion Uni-
versity donated many hours of their time to ensure the success of
the event. Virginia’s contest, now in its twelfth year, is among the
inaugural marine science bowls started in 1998.
dents and non-residents who keep boats in the city to determine
the economic impact of their boating-related activities.
In 2002, the boat tax in Hampton was reduced from $1 per
every $100 of assessed value to $0.000001, and boat taxes have not
been collected by the city since then. On April 8, the Hampton
City Council discussed the study results and the question of wheth-
er to reinstate the boat tax. Te council directed the city manager to
calculate a boat-tax rate that would satisfy members of the public
who think boat owners should pay taxes to help maintain the wa-
terways and facilities they use, but that would not discourage boat-
ers from continuing to call Hampton their home port.
A full report on the study can be downloaded at http://web.
vims.edu/adv/econ/analyses.html.
From left to right: Coach William Dunn,
Team Captain Christine Chesley, Jack Hall,
Mary Chang, Mike Stolz, and Nate Taylor.
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims.edu/seagrant
© Dave Malmquist/VIMS
Don’t let anything keep you from getting the
Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin.
Rain? Sleet? Gloom of night?
Save trees by signing up for our electronic-only version.
Just send a message to vsgpubs@vims.edu and we’ll send you
an email when each issue is ready to download.
Sea Grant Communications
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DR. JOHN T. WELLS Dean and Director Virginia Institute of Marine Science School of Marine Science The College of William and Mary DR. TROY HARTLEY Director Virginia Sea Grant Program TOM MURRAY Director Marine Extension Program MARGARET PIzER Editor

From the editor
n the spirit of the season, Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) is doing some spring cleaning. To make sure our mailing list is spic and span, we’re asking you to return the postcard on the cover to renew your subscription to the Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin and make any necessary changes to your address. You can also sign up to receive our new electronic-only edition to get an email notifying you when you can download the magazine from our website. We’re hoping these efforts will help us reduce our effect on the planet and cut down printing costs while continuing to deliver the coastal and ocean news and information you expect from the Bulletin. Other changes are also afoot this spring—the biggest being VASG’s new strategic plan. A preliminary draft is now available on our website www. vims.edu/seagrant. Check it out and let us know what you think. As we look to the future, VASG is combining the best of our past programs and strengths with new initiatives aimed at tackling growing challenges such as adapting to climate change, advancing sustainable coastal community development, and enhancing the resilience of communities in the face of coastal hazards. This issue of the Bulletin focuses on some of those current trends and on VASG’s work to deal with them. We’ve been exploring ways to help Virginia’s coastal communities prepare for the increased sea level rise and flooding risk that come with global climate change, including funding outreach efforts to local officials and emergency managers. Over the past several years, our partners at the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research & Extension Center in Hampton have developed Spanish-language training programs that are helping the seafood processing industry adapt to changing workforce demographics. Our well-established aquaculture programs are continuing to foster the growth of oyster aquaculture by developing and teaching innovative culture methods. These are just a few of the ways VASG is adapting to meet the pressing needs of coastal communities and businesses. Don’t forget to check out the “News from the Point” section of this issue to learn about more projects and people we’re supporting, from our 2008 Knauss Fellows to 2009 research grant recipients.

I

The Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin is a publication of the Marine Extension Program of Virginia Sea Grant. The magazine is intended as an open forum for ideas, and the views expressed do not imply endorsement, nor do they necessarily reflect the official position of Sea Grant or the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Cover: Hurricane Isabel came ashore in September 2003, bringing devastating floods to tidewater Virginia. Photo © NASA

— Margaret Pizer

Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin

u

www.vims.edu/seagrant

.............. including an interview with Virginia’s Knauss Fellows about their year in Washington D............... This work is a result of research sponsored in part by NOAA Office of Sea Grant. Subscriptions to the Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin are available without charge upon written request or by sending an email to vsgpubs@vims................. Volume 41.........................edu...................S...... and recent grants awarded by Sea Grant and the Virginia Fisheries Resource Grant Program.....14 The latest news from Virginia Sea Grant........... Hampton boat tax study.........C. News from the Point.. Blue Crab Bowl........... Number 1 u Spring 2009 ...... The U...... under Grant No............6 The new workforce in seafood processing is a growing population of seasonal migrant workers—almost all of them Hispanic................. VIMS researchers are helping Virginia communities predict and prepare for the increasingly frequent floods that climate change and rising seas will bring........ A unique combination of public and private partners have come together to make this promise a reality........ Virginia Sea Grant is helping these workers and the foods they process stay safe by providing specialized on-the-job training in Spanish.in this issue Forecasting the Rising Tide..2 Coastal Virginia is one of the areas in the country most vulnerable to sea-level rise...... Comments and questions may be directed to the editor at 804-684-7167........................ With help from Sea Grant............... COPYRIGHT ©2009 by the Virginia Sea Grant Program The Bulletin is printed on recycled paper using soy ink.. Department of Commerce................. government is authorized to produce and distribute reprints for governmental purposes notwithstanding any copyright notation that may appear here........ U.......................... NA96RG0025 to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and Virginia Sea Grant Program.10 A technique called spat-on-shell is promising to take Virginia’s burgeoning oyster aquaculture industry to the next level..... Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin Volume 41 Number 1 Spring 2009 Trabajadores.... Sowing the Seeds...........S.....................

but for a storm like Ernesto I only had to move things up an inch or two. Now Bacot monitors water levels and tides for Gloucester Point on the Tidewatch website (www. it brought thirty inches of water into Danny Bacot’s Ship Store at York River Yacht Haven in Gloucester Point.” Sometime between Isabel and the 2006 storms. u . which included Ernesto and an unnamed Northeaster that barely got the Ship Store carpet wet. “Then I make it a point I n 2003.Forecasting the Rising Tide Climate change hammers home the need for better water-level predictions.edu/seagrant when hurricane Isabel barreled into Virginia.edu/ tidewatch) that Boon maintains. It turns out it was the right wild guess. “I would have never thought to tie down a dumpster. “In Isabel we made a wild guess and moved all the inventory to be the height of the check-out counter or more. The two were able to determine benchmarks based on past storms for the water levels needed to flood Bacot’s store.vims. but they float if they’re empty. by Margaret Pizer Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin www. Bacot started talking to John Boon. to see if they could predict when the shop was going to flood.” says Bacot. Isabel also brought some important lessons that Bacot applies to his storm management plans today. a professor emeritus at VIMS.vims.

but perhaps equally important for coastal Virginia is Scientists like Boon and Wang can sometimes speak in an alphabet soup of what they call “datums. Wang. The potential of these projects is huge—to help all of us plan for and protect ourselves from the effects of storms that are expected to buffet our coasts with increasing frequency and more devastating effects due to climate change and sealevel rise. The system Boon and his collaborators. a difference that was mostly due to sea-level rise during the intervening seventy years. and since most people in coastal areas are prepared for the typical range of predicted tides. they expand slightly and thus the same amount of water takes up more space. and Shen attribute this to the fact that the monthly mean sea level during Isabel was about 1. XHW is defined as an observed water level that exceeds the highest predicted high tide for that location. Boon. Boon has determined that flooding at York River Yacht Haven will occur when the extratidal high water (XHW) at the Yorktown Coast Guard Training Center is 2.4 feet higher. Climate Change Science Program (www. in green) at each location. Despite being a weaker storm. and storm surge (calculated as the difference between the two. For example. Boon’s goal is to add storm-surge and water-level predictions to the Tidewatch website. flooding should only become a problem when water levels rise into extratidal range. which was a category one storm when it hit Virginia. Boon and several other researchers at VIMS are hard at work on projects that aim to give everyone the same type of predictive power that Bacot gets from those calls.in my storm preparations to find John and ask him what the water levels are going to do. Isabel brought maximum water levels that were comparable to those seen in the 1933 storm. have been working on is a network of water-level gauges located at eight locations around Chesapeake Bay. Scientists attribute this difference to land subsidence in the region (we’re sinking). as well as through thermal expansion—as ocean waters become warmer. The Tidewatch website updates every half hour and shows astronomical tides (in blue).” While not everyone in coastal Virginia has John Boon’s phone number (luckily for him).” the statistics they use to describe tides and water levels. These records have allowed NOAA scientists to calculate that sea level in the region has risen by an average of about four millimeters per year relative to the land since 1928. A recent report by the U. Warmer oceans can also lead to the formation of more severe tropical storms and hurricanes. Boon. and VIMS colleague Jian Shen compared the August 1933 “storm of the century” at Hampton Roads to Isabel.gov) suggests a future scenario for the Mid-Atlantic region that includes an additional sea-level rise of more than three feet by 2100—an alarming possibility in a place where many homes and businesses are already within inches of the high-tide line. we can take a look at one of the graphs the Tidewatch website produces (next page). To understand what that means.S. Number 1 u Spring 2009 . which combines with sea-level rise due to global climate change. XHW is measured as the height above the highest tide predicted using as- Volume 41.climatescience. including fellow VIMS professors John Brubaker and Dave Forrest. But to understand the factors that go into determining where flooding will occur. the fact that rising base sea levels mean that even less-severe storms can produce more damaging floods.” says Wang. In one example of this effect. Not every region has such a long record of water-level data. How High is the Water? climate change realities “The Chesapeake Bay has one of the longest records of sea level at Sewells Point and Baltimore Harbor. Wang. while his colleague Harry Wang is working on computer models that can predict flooding at the street level. but a comparison of the data that are available indicates that the Mid-Atlantic has one of the highest rates of sea-level rise on the East Coast. Storms are the most obvious factor that can cause water levels to exceed the predicted high-tide level. and technicians Todd Nelson and Tim Gass. you need to know just a few of these terms. Rising global temperatures contribute to higher sea levels through melting of the Antarctic ice cap and glaciers. observed water levels (in red). On the Tidewatch graphs.5 feet.

Boon has added predicted storm surge (dotted green) and used it to predict observed water level beyond the last observed data point on the graph (yellow). Key to abbreviations: HAT=Highest Astronomical Tide. and Boon is working to incorporate them into his graphs (dotted green line). MHHW=Mean High High Water. “One of the things that we’ve been trying to do is put something together that has all of the information that emergency managers might need but is not so overly technical that people can’t get their minds around it. could we then add that on to our prediction of the astronomic tide and come up with a forecast of the next high water?” Storm surge predictions are available from the National Weather Service. that next extreme water level may not occur at predicted high tide. “if we knew something about what that surge was going to do in the next twelve hours.” says Boon.vims. Observed water levels (red) are the sum of astronomical tide and storm surge.” “We’ve asked ourselves this question. 4 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.35 MSL 0. during Hurricane Isabel.00 MLLW −0.” testing the Models Another benefit of the network of water gauges that Boon and his colleagues maintain is that they provide ground truthing for large-scale models that show great potential for predicting how flooding will happen in the event of the next big storm.87 m30 1.edu/seagrant . The model is the product of the NOAA-funded Chesapeake Bay Inundation Prediction System (CIPS). “That phasing can alter dramatically when you’re going to actually see your highest high water (XHW). 2003) Tides and water levels at Sewells Point.VA. Because the storm surge is not always in phase with the tide. m30=Mean water level (averaged over last thirty days). tronomical models (called highest astronomical tide or HAT).69 LAT 06:00 12:00 18:00 00:00 06:00 12:00 18:00 00:00 06:00 12:00 18:00 00:00 06:00 12:00 Time (September 15-September 18.9 8 7 observed astronomic storm surge 12hr forecast predicted XHW 15:06 HAT+4. “We think that would be very important to emergency managers.76 MHHW 1. “We could tell them how high that next extreme is going to be and when it is going to occur at places where we have active water level monitoring going on. Wang is working with a team of other researchers on one such model that would provide city-blocklevel predictions of inundation. MSL=Mean Sea Level (averaged from 1983–2001).53 HAT 2.” he adds. LAT=Lowest Astronomical Tide.” says Boon.37 3. Boon explains. MLLW=Mean Low Low Water.79 HAT+5 HAT+4 HAT+3 6 HAT+2 Water Level (feet) 5 HAT+1 4 3 2 1 0 −1 −2 00:00 XHW 2:18 HAT+0.

during Brubaker. “Virginia Sea Grant supports this outreach aimed at providing the most contemporary. so you don’t want to wait until it reaches your doorstep. With this in mind.” All joking aside.” To meet this challenge. Within each section of the grid. also recently garnered Virginia Sea Grant (VASG) funding for an outreach project in Middlesex County that will include workshops and demonstrations of the Tidewatch system to emergency managers and other local officials. and least fine over deep water. You want to track it when it’s far away. we need to see how well we’ve done. “Those are the types of decisions that I make using John’s information. topography. and water depth. VA. When a storm approaches. like a home or a street. practical effects for coastal residents. protecting critical infrastructure like power grids. and Boon have Hurricane Isabel. planners.The challenge is to model flooding over a large area. science-based information to the Commonwealth’s coastal communities. A better understanding of the local risks arising from the increasing intensity of coastal storms and flooding will help residents and leaders develop practices to reduce vulnerability and allow for a quicker and more effective response when coastal flooding occurs. “Right now our predictions are accurate to within about fifteen centimeters (about six inches).” One of the limiting factors for these models at the moment is the availability of good topographic data. and the scientists are working with city engineers. Forrest.” Volume 41. the model breaks up a large area into a grid that is finest over land. But the real impact—the scale of the damage—is on the order of 100 meters.” says Wang. but with very fine resolution. “Once we simulate with the model. but a lot of work and investment will be needed. explains Wang. the VIMS researchers are seeking a variety of community collaborations. water levels are predicted based on wind velocities and directions. from how high he moves his merchandise to whether to haul out boats from his marina. tides.” says Wang. “Do I go ahead and reserve the carpet vacuums or not?” Bacot asks with a smile. That’s where the uncertainty begins to kick in. in Mathews. Wang can compare what his model would have predicted during Isabel or Ernesto with the actual data collected during the storms at Sewells Point or other gauges. Number 1 u Spring 2009 5 . storms like Katrina have driven home the message that being able to plan and prepare for storms has life-and-death implications—from evacuating nursing home residents to into account in their development Flooding on Main St. local. The output of the model at the street level is only as accurate as the data fed into it about the contours of the land. Boon is hoping to work with the National Weather Service and local meteorologists to get accurate water-level predictions onto the nightly newscast. Danny Bacot has to decide how to manage a variety of things. Wang’s ultimate goal is similar to Boon’s— to help coastal residents and emergency managers prepare for storms. He and Wang and their VIMS colleagues have conducted workshops in communities like Poquoson and Jamestown that are at risk from flooding. and emergency management plans. “Eventually we’d like to generate flooding maps in real time. and this is where data from the water level gauges come in. and emergency managers to help them take the effects of sea-level rise © Mathews County Public Schools Putting science to Work The modeling and predictions that Wang and Boon are working on have real. “A hurricane is on the order of 300 to 500 km wide. VASG marine extension leader Tom Murray says facilitating these outreach efforts is a natural fit.

by Phil Marsosudiro Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.edu/seagrant .trabajadores [trah-bah-hah-dor-ez] (n): The new workforce in Virginia seafood processing.vims.

The seafood producers like Graham vouch that Hispanic workers are a vital solution for staffing their seasonal positions. Wanchese’s quality Volume 41. During the same time. Graham can rely on Abigail Villalba. According to the American Community Survey.S. In Latin America. we’ve lost our local laborers because there’s no steady employment. which makes it more difficult to train and communicate with workers about critical issues affecting their own safety and the safety of the products they process.000 in 1990 to more than business. Census data showing that Virginia’s Hispanic population tripled from 152. “So we’ve had to turn to seasonal migrant labor. and Abigail Villalba instructs only three of us have more than a dozen employees at Little River Seafood. or how to say it. “The crab industry shrank by ninety-five percent since the late mid-80s when I remember there were more than seventy-seven crab processors in © Kelly Minor/Little River Seafood not Your Grandfather’s Picking House It’s no secret that the Spanish-speaking population in Virginia has grown tremendously over the past decades.” says Villalba.000 pounds of finished crab meat per day. Little River Seafood has employed seasonal Hispanic or Latino workers since the late 1980s. Now there’s less than ten. now the company’s president. the Wanchese Fish Company hires as many as 100 Latino workers between late spring and autumn. Working through the Virginia Seafood Agricultural Research & Extension Center (VSAREC). year-round staff. and in 1955. changes in the seafood industry have led to declining employment prospects for local watermen. but of course this new workforce presents new challenges. “During these down years. it’s hard to get enough skilled staff during the shortened crab season that is no longer year round. the papeles higiénicos go down the drain to protect against germs.food man. food safety specialist at Virginia Tech.” says Graham. Fortunately. “You’d be amazed at what needs to be mentioned.” In Suffolk. Then we kept increasing until we recently had as many as sixty at peak season in July. if they don’t know the language and culture? Johnny Graham is a fourth-Generation sea- 460. Some retire and we don’t get many new ones. we had four production plants running 10. “seasonal migrant labor” mostly means workers—trabajadores—from Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries such as Honduras and Guatemala. “We’ve lost a lot of watermen. President Greg Lewis says. now representing more than six percent of the state’s population. Adding to the pain.” In Reedville. for example. We still have fifteen or so Americans. his grandfather founded the company that became Graham and Rollins Seafood in downtown Hampton. toilet paper goes into a waste bin instead of the toilet to protect the plumbing.” The plant was full of locally grown workers processing locally harvested crab. One of the biggest is the language barrier.and Englishspeaking workers at Graham and Rollins. Here. of course. “the first year we hired around ten Latino workers. “At our height in 1991.” says Graham. Matt Nowicki. Who’s going to know that such a thing needs to be explained. Graham recalls. but lasts only from early spring through autumn. Number 1 u Spring 2009 7 .000 in 2006. approximately one third of Virginia’s Hispanics in 2006 were immigrants (as distinct from permanent residents or citizens). But things aren’t like that anymore. But every year they get fewer. when it comes to food safety.” As is now common across Virginia. Villalba provides bilingual training to both Spanish. His great-grandfather was a fisherman. mostly in processing and packing instead of picking. Villalba points to U.

” Matt Nowicki at Wanchese appreciates the effort. “I am happy I can fill this need. Nowicki says of Villalba. I prepare a list of the things we may need to emphasize at the moment. and she’s fluent in Spanish.” Villalba was prepared to deliver all three. so people pay attention when she speaks. “Some folks are under the impression that we can run things with flash cards that have generic commands like ‘shovel crab.” she says. but when the majority of his staff don’t speak English.” That’s why Villalba’s recent addition to the staff at VSAREC has been such a boon for area seafood processors. “When we’re running 24 hours a day 8 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www. the programs would not be nearly as good.” According to Nowicki and Lewis.vims. most of these workers earn between $10 and $12 an hour and they often work overtime during the busiest part of the season. Brothers. “If we had to do the training ourselves. Through Villalba.” As a long-time seafood producer. “Of our 100 Latino workers. and would take much longer to develop. the VSAREC is helping these seafood processors make sure their Spanish© Abigail Villalba/VASG Sign posted at Little River speaking staff will keep their prodSeafood in Reedville. sisters. “All it takes is one recall and more than likely you’re going to be out of business. “I grew up in Puerto Rico in a Spanish-speaking family and came to Virginia Tech in 2006 after many years working in food safety for the federal government. says Nowicki. I still want to do the English-language training. “Not only does she know our industry.” Things would be difficult without Villalba. Nowicki also praises the customized training.’ or ‘here comes a boat. says that recruiting is a family affair. It’s challenging enough under any circumstance.control manager. which is essential with Mexicans as our primary workforce. A native of Poland.’ But it’s not realistic to think we can operate that way. it’s even harder.” Johnny Graham also appreciates the customized help.’ ‘give me a box. “In 2006. so I had the right background for this. we did a survey of food producers to ask what they needed from us. (2) on-site training.edu/seagrant . “Before Abigail comes. Maybe we’ve had some issues with certain types of equipment. You don’t get multiple chances. and (3) bilingual training. “But always also in English.” talking about safety In any language.” says Graham. She’s also an expert trainer who isn’t one of our regular staff. he holds a master’s degree in animal bioengineering and he knows the importance of appropriate training. “I won’t do Spanish-language only training because everyone is responsible for the safety of the products regardless of the language they speak. “It’s just been a win-win situation for us. Graham knows how hard it is to keep his crab product safe. product safety is always an issue.” whether in Spanish or English. ucts safe from bacteria and other contamination. Abigail changes her training to make sure we focus on the most important things. or cousins—they come for three or four years in a row. Even if 90 percent of the workers are Spanish-speaking. One great advantage is that because so many work here for years. Three of the big things they asked for were (1) customized training. Johnny Graham takes note of the recent peanut plant closing in Georgia because of Salmonella. “She’s a scientist who understands our industry.” she says. she’s also authoritative because she’s from the government. VA. Maybe we want to focus on cross-contamination between raw and cooked products. they know what needs to be done. sixty-five or seventy come from just three major families that have a long relationship with the company.” Villalba has conducted numerous Spanishlanguage training sessions for Virginia seafood processors.

” With luck.” and updating. This type of training helps keep our Virginia products safe and high quality. And it’s very satisfying to the Food and Drug Administration and the state agencies when we can document the training that we’ve done. either. “Last year. As Lewis of Little River Seafood explains. “Even for workers who come back year after year. They want to do a good job. “We Above and on page 6: want to provide better training Workers pick and pack crab materials in English as well as at Little River Seafood. there is a need for refreshment training needs in Virginia. “So we’ve been competing against hotels. landscapers. “This is a big effort.” For several years after 9/11.” Assuming that immigration problems don’t push her clients into a downward spiral. we lucked out and got ours where others didn’t. Abigail offered the higher education and extra training to qualify my people for the job. we need a qualified quality control supervisor on each shift. But for the last three years. so now I can have enough key people to work these shifts while other key people are in bed. We need to provide them with the resources they need. But if we can’t take the time to explain things in their language and at their educational level. Photos Spanish for all kinds of food in. And then we wouldn’t have jobs for Americans. Congress hasn’t renewed the legislation. We got some for this year but probably won’t get as many as we want. “For the last three or four years. Congress made some exceptions to the cap—through annual legislation that allowed companies like Little River Seafood to bring back seasonal workers who had an established history of working with the processor. we’re out of luck. we’d be out of the crabpicking business. It’s hard to say just yet. the government started enforcing a cap that they hadn’t before.” says Lewis.” Volume 41.000 H2-B visas for the entire country. and when they know that it’s been provided by Abigail who they trust. Villalba plans to continue with the training—in both Spanish and English. and that’s why Virginia has one of the nation’s highest compliance rates for FDA inspections.” she says. Number 1 u Spring 2009 9 . However. seafood processors are increasingly worried that their real problem will be getting their staff here to work at all. with a limit of only 66. we’ve had a lot of difficulties getting workers for the seafood industry under the H2-B visa program.during the summer.” The lack of access to labor is bad news all around. Michael Jahncke explains. there may be funding to add more bilingual staff like Villalba for all the concerns for the Future The training opportunities offered by VSAREC are undoubtedly helping the seafood industry deal with the challenges of a mostly Spanish-speaking migrant workforce. After 9/11. adds Lewis. and we’re way behind on reaching the diverse audience we have. “Put it this way—if we couldn’t get the Mexicans.© Abigail Villalba/VASG dustries—not just seafood. and every other employer that also wants the H2-B workers. VSAREC Director Dr.

vims. there’s a decent chance that they’ll turn into 600 bushels of oysters. “It’s almost like following a recipe. and we didn’t yet have a broodstock of disease-resistant oysters” that could grow to market size in sufficient quantities to jus- Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.000. just like they would do in the wild. the pieces weren’t all there to make it work. Then you take the bags of spat-on-shell and place them on leased bottoms in the open water. If the larvae are healthy and they’re treated well for the next eighteen months. If all goes well. with additional reporting by Margaret Pizer juvenile oysters (called spat) on each of the old shells. But at the time. you need an environment that will support your efforts. ready for shucking.spat-on-shell and the future of Virginia oyster aquaculture t looks like a dirty baseball sitting under wet paper towels in a cooler. in about a year-anda-half you’ll be harvesting full-grown oysters. of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC).000 home run off a $4. As aquaculture techniques go.edu/seagrant . second. This is the dream of spat-on-shell oyster cultivation. and third. but it’s actually a bundle of live oyster larvae.” says James Wesson. PhD. The Proper ingredients Virginia’s first experiments with spat-on-shell date back to the 1980s. But he adds that if you want to make a living from it. purchased for $4. you need three things: First. spat-on-shell is not very complicated.000 baseball. you need to work with care and skill. some 20 million of them. Sell them at $25 a bushel. you need the proper ingredients. Michael Congrove—Remote Setting Extension Agent for the Virginia Seafood Council—lifts them out of the cooler and puts them gently into a bucket of clean seawater. You take a 10-foot diameter tank of water. and wait a few days. and that’s a $15. drop in bags of old oyster shells. ten or so larvae will have settled and metamorphosed into tiny soWinG tHe seeds I by Phil Marsosudiro. then pulls a few out and places them under his microscope to check their bellies (dark means they’re well-fed) and to make sure their gills are clear. If you’ve done it right. “Disease was widespread. add a large batch of larvae. He gives them a stir and waits.

” says Wesson.” Mastering the technique After Virginia developed better broodstock and a suitable technique for cultivation. Virginia has more Congrove. the next step was to put spat-on-shell into practice. With each set. ‘just put the larvae in with the shell? That’s not gonna do anything. until the end of the year when all of the participating firms were ready to conduct spat-on-shell cultivation without help from Commonwealth staff. and for profit. “But the Commonwealth setting us up with the program is a big help—a real deciding factor. Because Virginia backed us up with technical and financial support. in aquaculture for individual Bottom: Eyed oyster larva (about oysters that are sold on the 200 times actual size). most of the shucked oysters that we ‘produce’ in Virginia are shipped in from the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. “Our progress would have been much slower and would have cost much more. Several large commercial growers got in on the action—either adding aquaculture to shucking 11 Volume 41. To help the producers make this transition happen. Number 1 u Spring 2009 . They’re a more expensive and less reliable source. Photo © Michael ters is new. than a decade of experience Top: Ball of eyed oyster larvae. says Wesson.tify the spat-on-shell effort. but it can stay healthy long enough to get to market size. and lo and behold there’s fifteen oyster on it. “Second. I’ve learned a lot about the larval end of it. For flavor. It isn’t immune to disease. Erskine says. “we want to produce oysters that are grown in Virginia. But the resulting product (which is sold in the shell. unshucked) can be sold for a much higher price. of the Shores and Ruark Seafood Company echoes Erskine’s comment: “We already knew about the technique because it had a long history elsewhere. Aquaculture for individual oysters is a much more laborintensive and expensive process than spat-on-shell aquaculture. So Virginia had to put the idea aside while they worked on improving the broodstock. And the continuing help that they give us is a big thing.” These improvements have put spat-on-shell back on the table and locked in the first key ingredients for a Virginia oyster revival. not just shucked in Virginia. In 2008.” © Michael Congrove © Michael Congrove supportive environment The final piece of the puzzle for Virginia oyster growers has been a supportive economic and regulatory environment that has helped encourage both small. At first it felt like.” says Wesson. Erskine of the Bevans Oyster Company. Virginia’s Fishery Resource Grant Program provided funds for Congrove to work with them intensively for one year. a dozen oyster producers began working with VIMS. Annual sales of Virginia-grown aquacultured oysters (half-shell and shucked) increased six-fold over the three-year period from 2005 to 2007. and that’s all that is needed. Although spat-on-shell Facing Page: Watermen plant spataquaculture for shucked oys.on-shell oysters. for predictability. I’ll go off on it. the opportunity was a lot more tangible.’ But then we pull our shells up several days later. While he and his peers might have started spat-on-shell by themselves.” says Ruark. “Right now.and large-scale aquaculture efforts. we’ve learned how to breed triploid oysters—sterile oysters that put all their energy into a fast growout. “The collaboration really got us off the ground. and seeing how it did work (not just how it might work) was what everybody learned. half-shell market.” “Once I see that I can make money off it.” But for his own company? “Seeing is believing. and none into breeding. “First.J. VMRC. In 2005. we’ve developed a disease-resistant oyster. commercial staff acquired more skill and sophistication with the technique.” says A. Congrove helped each company run several sets of spaton-shell production—from tank preparation to larvae-setting to planting the spat-on-shell in Virginia waters. and other partners to see how spat-on-shell would work for them. they decided to cross the threshold from pilot projects into independent commercial production.” Rufus Ruark Jr. After three years of progress.

Allen Jr.000 bushels a year for us. the shucking houses began trucking in oysters from the Gulf Coast and were able to stay afloat.” At Kellum Seafood. and Dr.vims. The ten seafood companies that participated in the project are: • Purcell’s Seafood • Bevans Oyster Company • Cowart Seafood Corporation • Sea Farms • Shore Seafood • J&W Seafood • Shores and Ruark Seafood • Kellum Seafood • Terry Brothers • Mobjack Bay Seafood The manual is available for free online or for $10 in print. Kellum Inc. whether it’s spat-on-shell. shucking houses are an important component of the supportive environment in Virginia. pollution. weather-driven changes in salinity. whatever you’re doing. commercial producers remain hopeful.” says McMinn. and they’re willing to increase volume as the demand dictates. Oyster growers like Doug McMinn.” In addition to hatcheries. The Forecast For all the progress they’ve made thus far. getting them to set on shells. Oyster hatcheries have also opened in several parts of the state. “This state has a lot of private individuals who run hatcheries and do a really good job. “They’re not going to walk away from the buck that they put down without a fight. Wesson of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. Now.” McMinn thinks Virginia has reached the right public-private balance to foster growth in 12 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u the oyster industry. Disease.E. and predation from the cownose ray remain as known risks or wildcards that could derail the potential of spat-on-shell production in Virginia. Go to http://web. and growing them out to harvestable sizes. Despite the uncertainties. It’s www. “at this point. Virginia scientists and oyster producers are far from knowing that spat-on-shell will be a guaranteed success. says McMinn. Congrove of W. and the expanding Eastern Shore oyster aquaculture landscape now includes a major hatchery. who founded his Chesapeake Bay Oyster Company in 2003. many shucking houses went out of business as natural © Michael Congrove oyster harvests declined in the second half of the twentieth century. but in Virginia. “We’ve already been working with some of the guys on better systems” for spat-on-shell. The manual was written by Michael S. I think spat-on-shell is going to be a great thing for restoration. whether its cage. houses or starting new commercial aquaculture enterprises. Dr.edu/adv/frg/ or email vsgpubs@vims.edu. and the Virginia Seafood Council. Those shucking houses are also a natural market for spat-onshell oysters from Virginia. “Because we have shucking houses around here. as aquacultured oysters are on the rise. of VIMS with collaboration from ten Virginia seafood companies and funding from the Virginia Fishery Resource Grant Program. which is administered by the VIMS Advisory Services department. and the support of state institutions like VIMS that have helped develop the science to set oyster growers on the right track.vims. it takes pressure off the wild stocks. and many of them are getting into the spat-on-shell oyster cultivation business themselves. these shucking houses are a natural place for those oysters to go.edu/seagrant . says McMinn.A Practical Manual A group of Virginia scientists and seafood companies collaborated to produce “A Practical Manual for Remote Setting in Virginia. say the motor behind the success of Virginia oyster aquaculture has been steady growth in the market for Chesapeake Bay oysters. In other East Coast states. “The more we do to farm raise. James A.” a booklet that outlines a step-by-step process for obtaining oyster larvae. the availability of local shucking houses. Vice President Tommy Kellum says. spat-on-shell is producing maybe 10. “I think part of why the [aquacultured] clams have done so well and why oyster farming now is doing well is because the state was in at the beginning to help come up with some of the technology but then the guys had to start putting down their own money and putting themselves on the line. Standish K. we automatically have another market” for individually grown oysters that might not be suitable for the half-shell market because of their size or quality.

where they are grown. A team of researchers. including Accomack. with 100 people working. Volume 41. farmers can generate offsets by reducing the use of nitrogen fertilizer or by leaving some of their land untilled. Facing Page: Spat-on-shell. the nutrients they’ve eaten and incorporated into their tissues are permanently removed from the water. Alex Miller at the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission and Bonnie Brown and Colleen Higgins at VCU are researching ways that oyster growers could generate nutrient credits. nutrient credits promise yet another source of support for commercial oyster aquaculture operations. One way to create monetary value for a credit is through nutrient trading. But given the size of our leased acreage. a bill to establish such a credit was put forward by Senator Ralph S. A second incentive would encourage large-scale oyster aquaculture by providing “nutrient credits” to oyster growers based directly on the pounds of nutrients removed from Bay waters.certainly in a juvenile stage for us.” Rufus Ruark Jr. sums it up. Nutrient trading is already on the books in Virginia. the system limits nitrogen and phosphorous output from point sources like wastewater treatment plants. The Department of Environmental Quality has approved several types of agricultural offsets. “The time is ripe to recognize the role shellfish can play in cleaning up the Bay” and to make that recognition pay for oyster growers. and other pollutants that oysters help remove from the water would have cascading effects on the behavior of coastal residents. Photo © Margaret Pizer/VASG. “I think this is something everyone’s gonna be happy with. Northam who represents District Six. and a variety of other factors. Number 1 u Spring 2009 13 . Crediting Oysters for Helping Clean the Bay The Commonwealth has a strong record of supporting the science and training needed to help oyster growers succeed. phosphorous. For example. Oyster growers like Jack White. Northampton. Stephenson and Miller say that one major obstacle to incorporating oyster aquaculture into the nutrient trading system is the complicated science required to quantify how much nitrogen oysters remove—which can depend on the size of the oysters. If these issues can be overcome. owner of New Point Oyster Company. arguing that an awareness of the nitrogen. hope that Virginia will be able to include oysters in its nutrient trading system. including Kurt Stephenson of Virginia Tech. Oysters remove nutrients from the water by filter feeding. Northam plans to reintroduce it in the future. Point sources can also balance their emissions by buying nutrient offsets from point or non-point sources. In the 2009 session of the Virginia General Assembly. the next thing you know they might realize maybe they don’t need as much fertilizer on their lawn. we could get to a point where fifty to sixty percent of our oyster supply would come from spat-on-shell in five to eight years. Passed by the state legislature in 2005 and slated to become mandatory in 2011. In the coming years.When the oysters are harvested. Plants that exceed the limit can buy credits from others whose output is below it. I can actually see us generating enough oysters to keep the plant running year round. “If people get involved by putting an oyster float out. Although the bill had to be withdrawn due to this year’s budget crisis. Virginia may also have the opportunity to provide incentives for both amateur oyster gardeners and commercial aquaculture operations based on the benefits oysters provide to the environment by filtering and cleaning Chesapeake Bay waters.” says Northam. With spat-on-shell. says White.” Below: Doug McMinn checks one of his oyster cages in the Rappahannock River. One simple incentive would be a tax credit for Virginia residents who grow oysters off of backyard docks or floats. which transforms nitrogen into a gas that is biologically unavailable. and Mathews Counties and parts of Virginia Beach and Norfolk. Oysters also accelerate denitrification.

Corinne Audemard. Eric Hilton and John Olney of VIMS will identify patterns in the timing and abundance of shelf-spawned fish larvae that move into each bay and discern whether there are different physical mechanisms that influence differences in these patterns between the two estuaries. Consumers and industry will benefit from knowledge of the proper times and temperatures required to cook seafood to destroy pathogens. Thermal inactivation of bacteria in seafood Salmonella sp. he worked at the National Marine Fisher- 14 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin © VASG u www. Kimberly Reece.C. and Vibrio parahaemolyticus are the two leading sources of foodbourne illness caused by seafood. he was a graduate student in environmental sciences at UVA. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) Fisheries Program. Frank Parker. Photographic Services 2008 Knauss Fellows from Virginia. tiny larval fish move from the offshore Atlantic into the Delaware and Chesapeake bays.vims. Before the fellowship. ocean. Bret Wolfe worked in the U. and Great Lakes issues in the legislative and executive branches of government. he served as special assistant for the Deputy Assistant Administrator of NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. Michael Jahncke and Kumar Mallikarjunan of Virginia Tech will determine the temperatures necessary to kill or inactivate three strains of each of these diseasecausing bacteria. We caught up with Virginia’s 2008 recipients as their fellowships concluded to find out how things went. where he studied hammerhead shark populations off the East Coast. Howard Kator.S. First. Chris Hayes.news from the Point Virginia Sea Grant has awarded $655.edu/seagrant . former NOAA Administrator Vice Admiral Conrad Lautenbacher. Abigail got an MS in marine science at VIMS. the Knauss program sends graduate students from the Sea Grant states to Washington. Abigail Lynch spent the year working as an executive fellow in the U. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System Marine Program during his Knauss Fellowship. studying fisheries genetics. The research is a continuation of a Virginia—Maryland—Delaware partnership that will allow more complete and robust conclusions on the factors influencing variation in the abundance of the commercially and recreationally important fishes studied. His PhD research focuses on carbon and nitrogen cycling in estuarine sediments. Each year. for a year-long experience working on coastal. During his fellowship. From left Bret Wolfe. Uptake and elimination of contaminants from hard clams and oysters Clams and oysters grown in urban waterways are at risk of contamination with disease-causing organisms from sewage-treatment effluent and runoff. and Abigail Lynch. a little background on the fellows: Frank Parker has an MS from Florida International University and is working on finishing a PhD from VIMS.S. One method used to reduce contamination levels involves moving the live shellfish to an uncontaminated waterway for a short time period before harvesting them.899 in support of seven new coastal and marine research projects: Dynamics of ichthyoplankton ingress Every year. During his Knauss Fellowship. Before that. D. and she will begin a PhD program at Michigan State in the fall. and Martha Rhodes of VIMS will determine © NOAA Office of Public Affairs. Chris Hayes has an MS in fisheries science from Virginia Tech.

John McConaugha of Old Dominion University will examine both male and female reproductive changes that may need to be considered in the design of management policies for blue crabs. as well as a better working knowledge of how fisheries are managed in the U. of Virginia Tech. The contacts are the most valuable things I took away from the fellowship. We standardize data from different sources so that it can be used for stock assessments. New reproductive norm for the blue crab For over ten years. Abigail Lynch I chose to do my fellowship in an office where I knew I would also have a fieldwork component because I knew that I would want to be outside a bit. Certain fungal species produce omega-3 fatty acids that could be used as an alternative to fish oil. Producing fungal biomass as fish oil replacement in aquaculture The fatty acids present in fish oils are an essential component of the diet of marine fish grown in aquaculture. Effluent organic nitrogen in Virginia coastal waters Nitrogen levels released from waste-water treatment plants are regulated in the Chesapeake Bay to help prevent high levels of nitrogen. which is a state-federal cooperative entity that is a onestop-shop for fisheries data for the Atlantic Coast. It was a treetops view of the agency and an amazing opportunity. I had Abigail Lynch conducting fieldno practical experience in the work in Alaska. zhiyou Wen. Part of my portfolio involves transition- whether this is an effective method for the elimination of viruses and bacteria from clams and oysters naturally contaminated in Hampton Roads waterways. I gained practical experience with senior-level legislation and policy development. and now that the fellowship is over I can go back and dive into areas that were particularly interesting to me to learn more about them. How do you think the year in d. Bret Wolfe I got to act as marine program coordinator for the National Wildlife Refuge System while my supervisor was on another assignment and to represent the organization at international conferences on coral reefs. and I got to do an amazing month-long trip to Alaska to collect salmon samples and a number of other smaller trips locally. However. The level of exposure I got as a Sea Grant fellow is something you can’t get any other way. As a graduate student. grant application review. Different chemical forms of nitrogen are more or less usable by organisms (bioavailable) and thus more or less harmful to the ecosystem.com Volume 41. What parts of your Knauss experience stand out? Frank Parker My job during my fellowship was to support the Administrator and Assistant Administrator of NOAA Research. fish oils obtained from wild fish pose a risk of heavy metal contamination. Evidence suggests that this lack of recovery may be due to changes in reproductive characteristics such as the number and quality of eggs and sperm produced. communications and outreach. the blue crab population in Chesapeake Bay has been at historic low levels and has not responded to bi-state management regulations designed to curb overfishing. and data reporting to partners. Chris Hayes I worked in the Atlantic Coastal Cooperative Statistics Program.ies Service headquarters doing communications and outreach and working with economists to study factors affecting seafood prices. policy arena. I also got to work for a month at Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge and for two weeks in the Honolulu regional office. The Knauss Sea Grant Fellowship was a much more rewarding experience than I ever could have anticipated. but as a fisheries geneticist. During my fellowship. Deborah A. will investigate using crude glycerol derived from biodiesel production as a cheap source of carbon for growing omega-3 fatty acid rich fungi. I was able to see the landscape of the entire organization. I appreciated that policy and communicating science was crucial for fisheries management. and depend on fisheries that must be limited to protect wild fish. Number 1 u Spring 2009 15 .c. will affect your future career? Frank Parker I am still working in NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research.S. Bronk of VIMS and Margaret Mulholland of Old Dominion University will study the bioavailability of a subset of the nitrogen © Shutterstock. which can lead to algal blooms and other problems in the Bay ecosystem.

Maryland. Forecasting the response of Delmarva lagoons to changing land use and climate This regional project. The authors surveyed both Hampton resi© Erin Seiling/VASG Hampton Marina. Chris Hayes I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the fellowship. and 4) acceptable government impacts relating to issues such as long-term maintenance issues and tax consequences. The research will aim to link nutrients to ecosystem ing applications from NOAA Research into operations in the National Weather Service. but for the time being I’ll probably pursue this work. 16 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www. I’m not sure I know at this point what I want to do. I’ve made more contacts within NOAA and FWS and other federal and state agencies and NGOs than I ever would have expected in one year. we need a better understanding of what those effects might be. and I’m enjoying what I’m doing now working with the same program. management in the federal system and has catapulted me into a PhD program at Michigan State in fisheries and climate change with an emphasis on policy and the human dimension. These will be great job contacts or connections for whatever I may do in the future.edu/seagrant . I may think about going back and getting a doctorate at some point. was commissioned by the city of Hampton. Climate change impacts in Virginia In order to respond to the effects of climate change in the Commonwealth.released by treatment plants in order to better inform regulators about which types of nitrogen need to be most carefully controlled to protect the Bay. and Arthur Trembanis of the University of Delaware. Bret Wolfe I am currently working temporarily in the same position where I served my fellowship. I’ll start in the fall. These databases can be used for retrospective analyses of climate change trends. working with one of the professors I worked with on the National Fish Habitat Action Plan during my fellowship. NOAA. I have made many contacts at FWS. Lora Harris and Walter Boynton of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences. © Iris Anderson/VIMS © Shutterstock. conducted by Tom Murray and James Kirkley of VIMS and Doug Lipton of the University of Maryland. and Delaware Sea Grant programs. and Marcia Berman of VIMS will assemble and make widely available integrated databases describing past climate impacts on the ecosystems and environments of Virginia. Carl Hershner.com Boat tax study released A survey of recreational boat owners who make Hampton their home port recently concluded that these boaters bring $55 million to the city and help create nearly 700 fulltime jobs. I’ve learned about how things work within both agencies. applied science as opposed to the basic science I was doing in academia. The study. 3) overall positive environmental impacts. and at NGOs. 2) benefits to the end-users of the property. will be carried out by Mark Brush and Iris Anderson of VIMS. VASG has also funded one program development grant and one regional project: Conservation easements as a means of sustainable building This program development grant to Scott L. and to identify the economic effects of those effects. Reichle of Old Dominion University will fund a legal analysis of how conservation easements can be designed to simultaneously provide: 1) financial benefit to the developer.vims. The data may also allow researchers to begin to make predictions about climate change effects on ecosystems in the Commonwealth. but there’s definitely a draw to the mission-oriented. jointly funded by the Virginia. Roger Mann. Long term. Abigail Lynch This experience has provided me with a solid understanding of natural resource Frank Parker working on his graduate research at VIMS. and I think that’s more in line with my future.

Jack Hall. The Virginia Fishery Resource Grant Program. from all corners of Mary Chang. Producing triploid oyster larvae using heat shock A. Triploid oysters are desirable for aquaculture because they do not devote any of their food resources to reproduction and thus may grow faster and can be harvested during spawning season. and Nate Taylor. vims. funds research by fishery-industry participants aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of fishing. staff. and boat taxes have not been collected by the city since then. Erskine of Cowart Seafood Corporation. fifteen high schools Team Captain Christine Chesley. The council directed the city manager to calculate a boat-tax rate that would satisfy members of the public who think boat owners should pay taxes to help maintain the waterways and facilities they use. Meade Amory of L. © Margaret Pizer/VASG Channeled whelk assessment Richard B. algae. Bycatch in Virginia’s spring striped bass gillnet fishery George Earl Trice will test gear alterations intended to reduce bycatch of endangered Atlantic sturgeon in the gillnet fishery for striped bass. and size at reproduction in channeled whelks to help managers design effective and sustainable size limits for the whelk fishery. now in its twelfth year. The team earned the right to represent Virginia in the National Ocean Science Bowl (NOSB©) in Washington. emphasizing the roles of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). and graduate students from VIMS and Old Dominion University donated many hours of their time to ensure the success of the event. Virginia’s contest. of Bernie’s Conchs will study size distribution. but that would not discourage boaters from continuing to call Hampton their home port. Grafton High School took second place. will investigate heat shock as a method to produce triploid native oysters. This year’s Blue Crab Bowl. followed by Seton School of Manassas in fourth place.dents and non-residents who keep boats in the city to determine the economic impact of their boating-related activities. featured sixteen teams representing From left to right: Coach William Dunn. Number 1 u Spring 2009 17 .html. D. C.C.edu/adv/econ/analyses. Amory Co. A full report on the study can be downloaded at http://web. the Commonwealth. function. the boat tax in Hampton was reduced from $1 per every $100 of assessed value to $0. In third place was Chesapeake Bay Governor’s School-Glenns Campus..000001.831: New products from cownose ray Cownose rays are abundant in Chesapeake Bay and are an important predator on oysters and clams. On April 8. Mike Stolz. the Hampton City Council discussed the study results and the question of whether to reinstate the boat tax. and developing seafood products to improve quality and efficiency. Robbins Jr. The program has awarded four new grants totalling $243. will study the use of cownose ray meat and cartilage and on the development of efficient processing methods for rays. held at VIMS. Seventy-five faculty. sex ratios.J. and other photosynthetic organisms. They won two out of three of their round-robin matches and made it to the third round of double elimination—further than any previous Virginia team has gotten at NOSB©. In 2002. Eighty students spent the day in heated tournament competition focused on the marine sciences. restoring and protecting habitat. administered by VIMS Advisory Services. a regional academic competition that tests students’ knowledge of the oceans. Bishop Sullivan wins Blue Crab Bowl Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School of Virginia Beach repeated as champions of the annual Blue Crab Bowl. is among the inaugural marine science bowls started in 1998. The research is a continuation of an ongoing study of the effect of gear alterations on sturgeon catch rates and whether the modified gear are as efficient at catching striped bass. © NFWS Volume 41. developing new aquaculture techniques. on April 25–27. There the team faced 24 other regional champions from around the nation.D.

© Dave Malmquist/VIMS Rain? Sleet? Gloom of night? Sea Grant Communications Virginia Institute of Marine Science PO Box 1346 Gloucester Point. CT 06511 PERMIT NUMBER 1411 Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin u www.vims. Save trees by signing up for our electronic-only version.VA 23062 Address Service Requested NONPROFIT ORGANIzATION US POSTAGE PAID NEW HAVEN.edu and we’ll send you an email when each issue is ready to download. Just send a message to vsgpubs@vims.edu/seagrant .Don’t let anything keep you from getting the Virginia Marine Resource Bulletin.

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