Aquaculture in Oregon

As I wrap up my first year as a fellow, I am reflecting on what I have learned about aquaculture in Oregon. From conducting a survey with the aquaculture industry, agencies, and researchers, I gained new perspectives on perceived barriers to expanding production, which I wrote about in my last blog. I have also done a lot of research on regulatory structure and ways to streamline permitting processes for new aquaculture operations, which I plan to write about in a future blog post after finishing up a report on this topic. Getting back to the basics though, I thought it might be useful to talk about the different types of aquaculture in Oregon. I am currently working on some educational content for the Oregon Sea Grant website that will go into detail about this information, and wanted to share some highlights here. 

What is aquaculture and what is going on in Oregon?

Aquaculture is commonly defined as the farming of aquatic and marine animals and plants. This farming can take place in tanks on land, or within aquatic and marine environments. For example, kelp is often grown in the open ocean connected to long ropes. Aquaculture products or species have different purposes as well, such as food and other products, larval breeding, stocking, ornamental breeding, and restoration. A lot of farmed species are consumed directly after harvest, or in many cases go through additional processing. For example, Pacific oysters from Oregon are sold to be consumed raw on the half shell, or may be shucked and packaged before selling. Several aquaculture operations focus on producing larval or juvenile organisms. For example, Oregon has salmonid hatcheries that breed juvenile fish for stocking lakes, ponds, or rivers to supplement recreational and commercial fisheries. These fish are raised and released into natural systems to increase numbers available for fishing, or in some cases to restore populations. There are also private farms that produce and sell fish to private property and business owners who want to raise fish in ponds, lakes, or tanks. Lastly, fish and other species are commonly produced for public and private aquariums which is known as ornamental fish aquaculture. For all types of aquaculture, special permits from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other state agencies, are required prior to obtaining, transporting and/or raising organisms. 

What are some species grown in Oregon for food?  

Pacific oysters provide the highest economic value for aquaculture in Oregon. They are grown directly on mudflats, or in nearshore waters, using various techniques. For example, oysters can be grown using bottom culture, where they are grown directly on the ground with no equipment, and rack-and-bag culture, which involves keeping oysters in mesh bags attached to racks that elevate them off the ground. Oyster aquaculture requires no inputs to feed the animals, since the bivalves eat phytoplankton in the surrounding water, and can provide benefits to the environment, such as improved water quality and structured habitat for other organisms. 

Pacific dulse is a red seaweed that is native in low intertidal and upper subtidal rocky habitats from Alaska to California. In Oregon, dulse is grown in recirculating tank systems on land that are outside and open to sunlight for photosynthesis. The seaweed is tumbled around the tanks using heavy aeration. Dulse is currently produced in Tillamook and Port Orford. When dulse is cooked in certain ways, such as pan frying, it can have a bacon-like flavor. 

Purple sea urchins are a unique aquaculture species in Oregon with an unconventional production method. Wild purple urchins are highly abundant in Oregon’s nearshore environments, where they have decimated many kelp forests by voraciously feeding on the kelp. Urchins can live for long periods of time without eating, but they are not commercially viable when harvested in this state. Using a method called, “urchin ranching,” wild urchins are caught and fed seaweed in recirculating tanks to fatten them up until they reach a marketable size. A couple of pilot projects for urchin ranching are currently underway in Oregon. The Oregon Kelp Alliance (ORKA) has a great website with more information. 

What about larval production, stocking, and ornamental aquaculture? 

Some common fish species that are produced in hatcheries and released to the wild are Salmon (e.g., coho, chum, chinook) and trout (e.g., rainbow, cutthroat). Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages 33 public hatcheries that produce anywhere from 27,000 – 576,000 pounds of fish per year. 

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery is a prominent supplier of shellfish (oyster, clam, mussel) larvae in Oregon. They provide oyster larvae for commercial production along the West coast and internationally.

Ornamental aquaculture consists of several small businesses that don’t show up in formal data collection of aquaculture numbers, such as the USDA census of aquaculture. Therefore, it can be difficult to find specific information about these businesses and the types of fish they produce.  

These are just some examples of aquaculture species grown in Oregon. Check the OSG Aquaculture website in 2022 for more details, and contact me if you have any questions (

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One thought on “Aquaculture in Oregon

  1. Thanks for this post, Amy. It’s a great summary of where Oregon aquaculture is as the industry is poised for growth! I think it’s really interesting to see how something like aquaculture changes over time, and capturing snapshots of the industry status is both informative and an interesting “data point” in the history or aquaculture in Oregon.

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