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NRCS Grant Will Assist in Shellfish Restoration Efforts

Shellfish is big business in Connecticut. For example, did you know the estimated value of a commercial harvest is $30 million? The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is a proponent of the industry, and a part of the restoration efforts going on in the state.

Almost every year, NRCS announces a sign-up period for the agency’s Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) Program. CIG is intended to stimulate the development and adoption of innovative conservation approaches and technologies, while leveraging federal investment in environmental enhancement and protection in conjunction with agricultural production. Funds are used to award competitive grants to non-federal governmental or nongovernmental organizations, Tribes, or individuals. The program enables NRCS to work with public and private entities to accelerate technology transfer and adoption of promising technologies and approaches to address some of the nation’s most pressing natural resource concerns.

In 2018, the University of Connecticut submitted an application for a state CIG aimed at shellfish restoration. Once the proposals were screened and carefully ranked, this was one of several selected. The project, called the Conservation, Management, and Restoration Priorities and Practices for Connecticut Shellfish, is now in the early stages. The grant will advance the Connecticut Shellfish Initiative, a stakeholder-driven effort. The goal is to develop a comprehensive shellfish conservation, management, and restoration plan that addresses barriers and recommends high priority projects and practices for the state.

The first phase involves using spatial data (provided by NRCS’ Coastal Zone Soil Survey) to identify areas that are potentially suitable for shellfish restoration and areas that are not. The data layers to be examined include environmental, regulatory, and logistical. 

Coastal soil surveys provide detailed spatial data, chemical and physical properties of the soil, and suitability and limitations of the soil. The data is useful for marine spatial planning, aquaculture, and coastal and near-shore restoration projects for the more than 77,000 acres of shellfish beds located in the waters off Connecticut’s coastline.

This proposal specifically addresses Connecticut’s CIG Priority for last year, which was Aquatic Resources: Demonstrate and quantify the impact of conservation approaches and technologies most useful for addressing ocean resources—particularly coastal wetlands and oyster reefs—while achieving USDA conservation goals.  It is also aimed to better position restoration practitioners for funding under one of the Environmental Quality Incentives Program’s Conservation Practice Standards titled, Restoration of Rare or Declining Natural Communities. The goal of the CIG is to develop a comprehensive shellfish conservation, management and restoration plan that addresses barriers and recommends high priority projects and practices for Connecticut. This process will engage partners and key stakeholder groups to facilitate permitting and investment in shellfish restoration.