Aquaculture HQ coming to Matunuck

Billions of baby oysters will soon have a high-tech nursery in Wakefield.

Aquafarmers in Rhode Island will benefit from having access to a healthier, more predictable supply of oyster spat to produce consistently high-quality year-round oysters. Researchers at the University of Rhode Island, moreover, will have a state-of-the-art center to study bivalves and aquaculture with a “test kitchen” right across the street.

After years of planning, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed was in Wakefield to break ground Tuesday on the Matunuck Shellfish Hatchery and Research Center.

“Oyster farming can have a net positive impact on Rhode Island’s economy and environment,” he said.

This 4,118 square-foot facility will serve as a full-scale nursery and hatchery, growing and supplying oyster seed to aquafarmers. The hatchery will be a resource for shellfish farmers in Rhode Island, serving as a hub for research and technology to help growers to improve productivity and increase output. When it is completed, the $2.4 million waterfront hatchery will have two main floors and a third-floor mezzanine area.

“Ultimately, it will help boost sales of Rhode Island aquaculture. Aquaculture is good for the environment and our economy and it’s essential to the future of sustainable seafood, and the health of our local waters,” Reed said.

“We are very excited about the research opportunities that this unique facility will provide, from developing lines of oysters resistant to disease and environmental stress for New England farmers, to figuring out ways to address production bottlenecks and testing and implementing novel methods to grow shellfish in a sustainable way,” said URI professor Marta Gomez-Chiarri, a Jamestown resident.

The construction phase is expected to be completed in winter 2023. Once it is up and running, shellfish seed will be available to oyster farmers locally and regionally. The center will also grow shellfish larvae for restoration projects, as well as work with the University of Rhode Island to develop alternate species, such as bay scallops, sea urchins and seaweed, all of which would benefit shellfish aquafarmers in the region.

There are currently 84 oyster farms in Rhode Island that could potentially purchase seed and take part in restoration projects. In 2002, the total dollar value of aquaculture in Rhode Island was about $300,000. That year, Reed secured nearly $2 million in federal funding to hatch the Rhode Island Aquaculture Initiative, which has increased the breadth and depth of the Ocean State’s aquaculture industry. By 2021, Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry had grown to producing $7 million annually, according to the Coastal Resources Management Council.