In most parts of the world, aquaculture includes both fish and shellfish farming. Aquaculture involves growing juvenile fish or shellfish, supplied by a hatcher, in a nursery until they are large enough to be grown out in the coastal waters. As soon as the fish and shellfish reach a legal size, they are harvested and sent to market.

Massachusetts Aquaculture

Massachusetts aquaculture is a diverse sector of the Commonwealth's agricultural industry. Although the cultivation of aquatic species (specifically shellfish and crustaceans) was practiced by the Native Americans and later by the Colonists on Cape Cod, it was not until the 1970s when more efficient cultivation techniques were developed and commercial cultivation activities began. Since that time, aquaculture in Massachusetts has grown to include more than 15 species of fish and shellfish that are cultivated for food, research, biomedical, sport and ornamental purposes.

Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries reported that the Massachusetts shellfish aquaculture industry generated more than $6.2 million in 2006. At that time, there were more than 350 individuals and companies involved in aquaculture in Massachusetts, with nearly 300 as marine shellfish culture enterprises growing primarily Quahogs (hard shell clam) and American oyster. The Commonwealth's finfish growers produce a variety of species of finfish, including barramundi, tilapia, largemouth bass, black sea bass, brown bullhead, several species of trout, and several species of baitfish.

Why eat fish and shellfish?

First of all, because it's healthy! Fish and shellfish are high in essential minerals an vitamins, including iron, Vitamin E and several B Vitamins. Fish is also a healthy source of protein, with high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids. The USDA Dietary Guidelines recommend that Americans eat fish at least twice a week. Compared to other sources of protein, including beek, chicken, pork and turkey, fish and shellfish are low in saturated fats. As a result, including more fish in your diet can improve cardiovascular health and reduce your risk of getting cancer.

But, why eat farmed shellfish and not wild-caught?

As the aquaculture industry has grown in the past few years to meet market demands, research and activists have brought attention to the environmental concerns surrounding farming fish and shellfish. In response to this research, Best Management Practices in the US and in Massachusetts have improved dramatically to reduce the environmental impacts of aquaculture. In particular aquaculture operations are prohibited from using pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

Furthermore, wild-caught fishing practices can cause widespread habitat damage through dragging or deep-sea trawling. Because of its coastal location, aquaculture allows the consumer to know exactly where its product comes from and how it was grown. This is more difficult with off-shore fishing and shellfish harvesting. In fact, the Chefs Collaborative, a group focusing on local and sustainable consumption, recommends that consumers choose farmed shellfish as opposed to wild-caught.