Fisheries and Aquaculture Workshop in Petersburg, Alaska

I can’t believe it’s already June! The second year of my fellowship is really flying by. The highlights of the past few months have definitely been the opportunities to interact with my colleagues in person. In April, Oregon Sea Grant held a two-day program meeting in Newport and I really enjoyed “meeting” everyone who I’d previously only seen in a tiny square on my computer screen. In May, I had the amazing opportunity to spend a week in Petersburg, Alaska for a workshop with West Coast Sea Grant Programs on connecting fisheries and aquaculture across the region. The workshop brought together folks from Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and California Sea Grant programs to share our work on aquaculture and fisheries. We participated in training, went on field trips, and worked on collaborative regional projects. 

First of all, let me tell you about the small fishing town of Petersburg which sits at the tip of an island. The five hour flight to get there makes two stops on the way, and the airport building is about the size of a gas station. The population is about 3,000 people, and almost everything is within walking distance. The town features Scandinavian architecture and on our last day there, they were starting the annual Little Norway Festival which celebrates Norwegian Constitution Day and brings in about 1000 visitors every year. The harbor boasts hundreds of fishing boats and Petersburg is known for its diverse fishing industry that includes salmon, halibut, blackcod, herring, crab, shrimp, clams, and more! 

On Monday, the first day of the workshop, we met at a local beach park to get to know each other and share updates on our work. While we were there the tide at the beach continued to recede and show a dramatic change, which was really cool to watch. The pictures below show the change within just a few hours.

The next day we spent the morning in training about “Best Practices for Adult Education.” All of us attending the workshop conduct outreach and engagement with primarily adult audiences in fishing and aquaculture communities so this was really useful. After spending the morning on Zoom, we headed outside to tour a local fish hatchery that raises juvenile Salmon to support recreational and commercial fisheries. We were lucky enough to be there when they were releasing juveniles into the adjacent river through a large tube that transported the fish from holding tanks into the water. The picture below shows the fish emerging from a tube into the river in a swarm. 

Hose releasing juvenile fish from a hatchery into the river.

Next we went on to tour river restoration sites with a researcher from the U.S. Forest Service. These sites have been restored in recent years to provide better and more diverse habitat for salmonids that live and/or spawn in freshwater. There are some pictures of the restored site below. 

On Wednesday, we spent the day indoors and listened to presentations over Zoom, worked on projects, and interacted with folks from the local fishing community. The highlight of this day for me was a panel on “Advocacy and the Role of Extension Agents.” At Sea Grant, extension agents work on a lot of controversial issues in coastal communities, but our role is to remain neutral and serve as facilitators of information and exchange. In practice, this is really challenging, especially when residing in small coastal towns where everyone knows each other. It can be difficult to separate your personal and professional affiliations. While my fellowship has been remote and I haven’t experienced living in a small coastal community, I have had challenges with determining an appropriate role to not advocate for aquaculture, but instead provide information from a neutral place. This panel made me feel less like an imposter, as others have similar struggles, and provided some practical advice for how to navigate these situations. 

On Thursday, we gathered for a half day to wrap up, and then some of us went on an optional boat tour to the LeConte Glacier. This was absolutely the highlight of the trip. We spent about 5 hours on the boat with a local tour guide and coincidentally, a whale biologist. The wildlife on this tour was incredible! We saw humpback whales, porpoises, seals, sea lions, bald eagles, mountain goats, and a black bear. Traveling on the boat to the glacier through sea ice was an experience I will never forget. While we didn’t get very close to the glacier, we did get quite close to two-story icebergs, including one that had recently flipped over. According to our guide, icebergs will rotate, and the ice underneath will be more blue and vibrant, while the ice above the water will be white and look more like snow. Once the iceberg rotates, the blueish ice will change to the whiter, snow-like ice within a few hours. We were lucky enough to see a flipped glacier on our way back from the glacier.

Overall, this trip was an incredible experience and I’m really grateful that Sea Grant provided the resources for me to get there! 

Aquaculture Updates and Resources

I am back for another year of aquaculture adventures with Oregon Sea Grant, after taking a short break in December. Thanks to my very supportive and flexible mentors, I was able to take some leave and focus on self-care, a very important aspect of work-life balance. To my fellow fellows, if you’re struggling with burnout, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to recover. I rested A LOT, enjoyed the holidays at a slower pace, and visited Maui for the first time. The highlight of the trip was seeing a mama Gray whale with her baby on a snorkeling trip (where I also saw a SHARK and so many turtles and fish). After being stuck at home so much for the past couple of years, this trip was a good reminder of why I decided to study and work in marine science. 

Right now I am finishing up and launching some new projects for this year. Last November, I completed a draft of an aquaculture white paper that summarizes the Oregon aquaculture needs assessment, and reviews the regulatory framework for aquaculture in Oregon. I sent the full draft to some Sea Grant extension specialists in Oregon and Washington for review and am working with my mentor to address their comments and improve the report. Another project I am working on is a “Guide to Oregon Aquaculture” which will feature the different types of species, methods, and products in Oregon. I have been working on putting the information together, and my next step is to put it online, potentially using an ArcGIS StoryMap. I am looking forward to learning a new skill and making a visually appealing product to showcase this information. A new project that I am working on is creating some permitting guidance. The needs assessment pointed to a lack of information about permits and regulations as a major barrier to both starting and expanding aquaculture operations in Oregon. Right now I am meeting with folks that have created permitting guides in other states, doing research, and setting goals and timelines for completing the project. With all of these projects in progress, and several meetings and professional development opportunities to manage, I am strengthening my skills in task prioritization. 

One of the exciting things about aquaculture in the U.S. right now is that new tools and resources are constantly being developed to advance sustainable aquaculture. In the past few months, several new items have been released that provide information about siting, permitting, and business planning for new operations in Oregon, and along the U.S. West coast. I’ve provided links and descriptions of these new products that compliment what I am working on for Oregon Sea Grant. 

Oregon Aquaculture Landing Page: In December 2021, this webpage was launched on the Oregon Explorer Natural Resources Digital Library. The landing page links to several other resources that were developed concurrently, like the Estuary Shellfish Mariculture Explorer and the Oregon Aquaculture Explorer Platform. 

Estuary Shellfish Mariculture Explorer: This is a spatial tool to help with choosing a site for growing shellfish within estuaries in Oregon. The tool was created by the Department of Land Conservation and Development, Oregon Explorer, and Oregon Department of Agriculture and includes approved growing areas for shellfish and locations of current leased tidelands, among other resources.

Oregon Aquaculture Explorer Platform: This platform provides spatial and financial tools for setting up inland aquaculture operations for Tilapia, Sturgeon, and Hybrid Striped Bass. Users can use the map viewer to look at different spatial factors that are important for setting up an onsite aquaculture operation, such as water resources, land ownership, and climate, and create a site report for a specified location. The platform also has financial planning tools with specific information for each fish species. Funding from Oregon Sea Grant will support expansion of the tool to include marine species in the near future.

NOAA Permitting Resources: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has released several federal and state level permitting resources. Two websites for the U.S. West coast with lists of permitting information and siting resources for Washington, Oregon and California went live in fall 2021. NOAA also produced a Federal Permitting Guide for Marine Aquaculture in February 2022 that includes the major federal agencies, permits, and laws, and has links to a state permit and lease summaries for shellfish, finfish, and seaweed

It’s exciting to see so much progress and change in just the last year, which keeps me motivated to work on Oregon specific resources. Looking forward, I am really excited to potentially meet my co-workers in person in the next month. OSG is planning an in-person program meeting in Newport in April. I hope I can get out to the coast again and meet the awesome folks that I’ve been fortunate to work with.

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 (

Information Sources:

Barriers to Aquaculture Expansion in Oregon

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. 

Header for the Oregon aquaculture needs assessment report that is in the final stages of publication by OSG.

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.

Perceived aquaculture barriers chosen by respondents from each sector that filled out the aquaculture needs assessment survey. Percentages are out of the number of responses within each sector. Other barriers listed: dairy pollution, plat specific regulations about growing/harvesting/planting (current growers): hatchery training, seaweed seed production (prospective growers); available land and water, coastal public perception, ocean acidification (agency personnel); time-consuming process for permits/leases, lack of partnerships between researchers and producers of emerging products (researchers).

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.

If you want to learn more, check this short report on the OSG Aquaculture Page, or reach out to me at

Aquaculture Literacy

I can’t believe I’ve already been a fellow for six months! Time is really flying by. In the last quarter, I have distributed a needs assessment survey to stakeholders involved in Oregon aquaculture, continued working with West Coast Sea Grant partners to plan a seaweed symposium, served as a reviewer for two grant proposals, and started working on an aquaculture regulations report. In my next blog post, I plan to give a more thorough update on these projects, but for now, I am going to discuss a side topic that is frequently brought up in literature (and other media) and conversations about sustainable aquaculture development.

Every other week I participate in a regional meeting facilitated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) where all of the West Coast Sea Grant programs give an update on their aquaculture work. Sometimes we spend part of the meeting discussing a relevant topic, and we have recently been focusing on aquaculture literacy, which I am defining very generally as knowledge and understanding of aquaculture among the public. This has sparked some very interesting conversations about how the public perceives aquaculture, how these perspectives have changed (or not) over time, and how to address the myriad of misconceptions that persist. 

To give you some background, there is a general lack of awareness of current aquaculture practices among the public. Aquaculture is not something that most people knowingly interact with on a regular basis, and this is especially true for folks living in landlocked states – although these states grow a large number of freshwater aquaculture products. About half of consumed seafood is farmed (NOAA Fisheries 2020), so it is likely that most people who eat seafood regularly are consuming some aquaculture products. Despite this prevalence, negative perceptions of aquaculture are abundant and persistent, which can limit aquaculture development. Like any method of food production, farming of aquatic species comes with risks to the environment. For example, some forms of aquaculture can contribute to pollution and disease spread from farmed to wild species. But aquaculture also provides benefits such as jobs, food security, and ecosystem services. Additionally, scientific literature has refuted many of the associated risks that are commonly cited (Knapp and Rubino 2016), but since most people have limited engagement with updated information about aquaculture, negative perceptions can still present a barrier to expansion.

When addressing the issue of aquaculture literacy, I think it is really important to acknowledge that aquaculture is a diverse and growing industry that utilizes several farming methods to grow numerous aquatic and marine species (e.g., fish, shellfish, seaweed, etc.). This diversity means that blanket statements about the environmental impacts of aquaculture are rarely representative of the industry as a whole. The impacts and sustainability are very much dependent on the species, habitat, and method of farming, just like they are for any other type of food production. For example, raising fish in an offshore net pen in the open ocean will have very different risks than raising them in a recirculating tank system on land. The industry has grown significantly over the past 20 years, and has experienced a lot of pressure to increase the sustainability of their practices (Naylor et al. 2021). During this time, they have been working hard to implement improvements that greatly reduce risk. As a local example, longline oyster growers in Washington have developed tools to reduce the amount of marine debris (specifically yellow rope fragments) released into the environment, including a machine called the “cluster buster”.

Aquaculture is an important tool to meet increased demands for seafood products since the majority of wild caught fisheries have plateaued (see Figure 1). In order for the aquaculture industry to expand sustainably, there is a need to improve aquaculture literacy and address misinformation. The question is, what is the best way to do this? In our regional meeting discussions, some suggestions included focusing on the environmental and economic benefits of aquaculture (e.g., jobs, food security), reaching K-12th grade audiences, working with aquariums and other informal/formal environmental education facilities, and sharing success stories from the industry. These are all great ideas and I would add highlighting the diverse, sustainable forms of aquaculture and technological advances. Check out this article from NOAA that discusses some current technology and regulations. I also think it is helpful to frame the sustainability of aquaculture in comparison to other food production systems, which may assist consumers in making informed choices. For a good comparison with wild caught fisheries, plant-based meat and livestock, I recommend this article. Lastly, funding opportunities that prioritize aquaculture literacy are needed to provide resources to educational institutions. There was a recent call for proposals from NOAA and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE) to address aquaculture literacy by providing funding to partnerships among informal learning centers (i.e., aquariums), the aquaculture industry, and NOAA. I am excited to see these organizations creating opportunities to support effective science communication and look forward to continued discussions about ways to address this issue.

Graph comparing world fisheries and aquaculture production from 1950-2018.
Figure 1. Plot showing the amount of capture fisheries vs. aquaculture production from 1950-2018. Source: Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report (2020).


FAO, 2020. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Knapp, G., Rubino, M.C., 2016. The Political Economics of Marine Aquaculture in the United States. Reviews in Fisheries Science & Aquaculture 24, 213–229.

Naylor, R.L., Hardy, R.W., Buschmann, A.H., Bush, S.R., Cao, L., Klinger, D.H., Little, D.C., Lubchenco, J., Shumway, S.E., Troell, M., 2021. A 20-year retrospective review of global aquaculture. Nature 591, 551–563.

NOAA Fisheries, 2020. U.S. Aquaculture.

Oregon Aquaculture Highlights

Hello! I am a new fellow so I’ll start by introducing myself and my background. My name is Amy Ehrhart and I am the Aquaculture Fellow for Oregon Sea Grant. I started this position in November 2020 part-time while I finished my PhD in Environmental Science and Management at Portland State University. I was about two weeks away from my defense when the position began which made for a whirlwind of a month. But somehow I was able to defend, edit and submit everything on time. It feels surreal to be done with graduate school and starting a fellowship, especially during a pandemic. 

So how did I get into aquaculture? My dissertation research focused on pharmaceutical contaminants in coastal ecosystems. Two of my research chapters addressed effects and accumulation of these compounds in Pacific oysters, which are commercially grown in Oregon and Washington. To conduct field experiments, I used off-bottom rack-and-bag culture methods (see picture below) to grow oysters in areas near and far from contaminant sources. While aquaculture was not the main focus of my research, I gained a good understanding of oyster biology/ecology, different growing methods, areas where culture is taking place, and some industry priorities. Since starting the fellowship I have learned A LOT more about aquaculture in Oregon and the West coast and I am enjoying the deep dive into this topic.  

Pacific oysters being grown in mesh bags attached to a PVC rack in Netarts Bay, Oregon (April 2017).

So far in my fellowship I have focused on three main projects: conducting a landscape analysis, planning a needs assessment, and participating in a regional seaweed aquaculture collaborative. I also provided updated content for the Oregon Sea Grant aquaculture website to highlight these current endeavors. There hasn’t been a large focus on aquaculture at Oregon Sea Grant for a few years so there was a need to identify who the major players are in the industry. I was tasked with completing a “landscape analysis” or more simply put, a spreadsheet of people, groups, and agencies involved with marine aquaculture in Oregon. I spent a good portion of my time compiling this information, and I continue adding to it as my work continues. 

My second project involved planning a needs assessment for growers, prospective growers, agencies, and researchers working on aquaculture topics. Globally, about 50% of seafood comes from aquaculture (NOAA Fisheries), and a lot of this is imported to the U.S. from other countries. There is federal support for coastal states to increase domestic aquaculture production, but they face several challenges and barriers. Oregon aquaculture production is fairly low compared to other states, and there is a potential opportunity for expansion, which could provide significant economic benefits for the state. But we don’t know if there is interest in expansion in marine aquaculture or what the current challenges are for growers. The goal of the needs assessment is to identify needs and barriers surrounding aquaculture expansion and use this information to inform outreach and engagement strategies. I am currently finalizing an online survey that will be distributed as soon as it gets human subjects research approval. 

My third project has been participating in a collaborative group that represents California, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska with a focus on seaweed aquaculture. Seaweed is a relatively new product, and one that I knew very little about coming into this group. I have been working hard to catch up so I can contribute meaningful recommendations. Our goal is to plan a regional symposium on seaweed farming that will be beneficial to growers and other industry members in all west coast states. This is incredibly challenging as all of the states have highly variable regulatory requirements, environmental constraints, and current seaweed operations. In Oregon, seaweed aquaculture is in the very early stages and constitutes 2-3 growers that cultivate Pacific dulse seaweed in land-based tanks. This is very different from a state like Alaska, that produces large amounts of kelp in the offshore environment. Identifying topics and strategies that apply to all states at a regional level has been an interesting challenge, and I look forward to strategizing and learning more. 

These first three months of my fellowship have flown by and I am really enjoying the work! It was difficult to start a job with a heavy focus on stakeholder engagement during a pandemic that restricts in-person interactions, but I am feeling much more optimistic about the future as vaccines are being administered and COVID-19 cases are starting to drop.

Thanks for reading and stay safe out there!