This summer is really flying by, which is fine by me! I am one of many Oregonians without air conditioning and am therefore looking forward to the cooler fall weather. In the past few months I have been focusing most of my time on the needs assessment project which I introduced in my first blog. As I briefly explained there, aquaculture in Oregon is limited to a few species and a relatively low economic value compared to neighboring states. In the past few years, federal legislation and funding have been enacted to increase domestic aquaculture in the U.S. to meet growing seafood demands. This may open up opportunities for aquaculture expansion in Oregon, but there is a lack of information on the current status, interest in expansion, and barriers. The goal of this needs assessment was to address some of these unanswered questions and establish some informed actions.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term “needs assessment,” NOAA has a great tutorial that I have found very helpful. Essentially, a needs assessment is a study conducted to identify and address a particular issue, usually to inform project planning within an organization. For this needs assessment, we set out to identify barriers to aquaculture expansion and recommend outreach and engagement strategies based on these barriers. In May 2021, I distributed an online survey to all of the stakeholders I could identify in Oregon that are involved in marine aquaculture. This included current growers, prospective growers, agency staff, and researchers. With the help of Oregon Sea Grant’s Social Media Specialist, the survey was also shared through Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts. The survey was active for about two months and we received 38 full responses. This may seem low, but the aquaculture industry in Oregon is really small so it was challenging to get a higher sample size.
Even though the survey got a low response rate, the information has still been really helpful. Several people who filled it out left thoughtful comments about their experiences in Oregon aquaculture that have helped me get a better idea of the current status and challenges from multiple perspectives. I learned that there is definitely interest in expansion among current growers, which mainly produce Pacific oysters. They were interested in adding new technologies and adding other species to their operations. There were also prospective growers that want to produce oysters and other marine species that haven’t been produced in Oregon, such as kelp and abalone.
Right now, I am working on finalizing a short report that will highlight the main takeaways from the survey. This document will be available on the Oregon Sea Grant Aquaculture website in the near future, but I thought I would share a snapshot of results here as well. In the figure below, you can see the responses to the question, “What are the major barriers to aquaculture expansion in Oregon?” from different sectors (growers, prospective growers, agency staff, researchers, other). Each respondent was able to choose multiple barriers.
The top barrier chosen by respondents was permitting/regulations, which is not surprising. When aquaculture growers want to set up a business, they are required to apply for various permits from state and federal agencies. The process for doing this can be challenging to figure out and because so few businesses are initiated each year, there is a lack of information about how to navigate the laws and requirements. Several respondents shared details about this experience indicating that there is a need for more information and education about going through this process. Creating outreach materials that outline the permitting process may be a good next step to address this particular challenge.