The number of aquaculture farms in New Jersey tripled over a seven-year period, according to the recently released United States Department of Agriculture Census of Aquaculture.
The 1998 census showed that there were 28 aquaculture farms in the Garden State, while there were 87 farms in 2005.
The increase is attributable, in part, to better identification of producers. The census, conducted by the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, showed that New Jersey aquaculture was diverse, growing everything from clams, oysters and four varieties of food fish to ornamental fish, such as koi, goldfish, tropicals and baitfish.
"We are working to strengthen and grow a vibrant, sustainable aquaculture industry that is sensitive to the environment," said New Jersey Secretary of Agriculture Charles M. Kuperus. "We are starting out with small, innovative producers who are bringing new products to the marketplace."
In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program awarded a $47,100 USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to a group of seven aquaculture producers in the state for the marketing of clams under the Jersey Seafood brand name.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture established an Aquatic Farmer License program in 2004 to foster the growth of a viable and vibrant aquaculture industry in New Jersey. The license was established to allow producers to demonstrate definitive ownership of the organisms being cultured and reduce the possibility of the introduction of exotic pests that may be detrimental to wild stocks and other aquatic farms.
The department has issued 182 Aquatic Farmer Licenses since the licensing program began. Of those, 107 are producing clams, 43 oysters, 13 clams and oysters, 15 finfish, two aquatic plants, and two plants and finfish. Forty-eight percent of those holding licenses completed the census forms.
Highlights of the census include:
- Hard clams were the principal farmed seafood with $2.1 million in sales. Koi was the top revenue producer for ornamental fish, with $311,000 in sales.
- Of the 67 farms raising mollusks, 51 were clam farmers, 17 were oyster farmers and one farm reported both oysters and clams. Six farms raised food fish. Of those, two reported hybrid striped bass, three carp, two tilapia and one trout. Of the nine ornamental fish farms, eight farms raised koi, three raised goldfish and one raised tropical fish. Four farmers raised baitfish.
- There were 4,466 acres of saltwater in production on 70 farms and 17 farms reported 51 acres of freshwater in production.
- Ninety percent of the farmers sold directly to consumers, 8 percent to wholesalers and distributors and 1 percent to other producers.
- New Jersey aquaculture farms reported sales of $3.7 million last year, with mollusks accounting for the majority of sales. The census reported that overall sales decreased by 36 percent since 1998, due to the loss of a large producer.
Nationally, aquaculture experienced an 11.7 percent annual growth rate over the past seven years.
The industry generates more than $1 billion in sales annually. Catfish, salmon, hybrid striped bass and tilapia account for 62 percent of the sales, while mollusks such as clams, oysters and mussels account for an additional 20 percent of sales.