Potential Influence of Phytoplankton Communities on the Growth of Farmed M. mercenaria in Southern New Jersey: A Pilot Study

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2024: $24,759.00
Projected End Date: 05/31/2025
Grant Recipient: Parsons Seafood and Mariculture
Region: Northeast
State: New Jersey
Project Leader:
Dale Parsons
Parsons Seafood and Mariculture
Colleen Ebert
Parsons Seafood and Mariculture


  • Animals: shellfish


  • Animal Production: aquaculture
  • Natural Resources/Environment: other

    Proposal summary:

    Barnegat Bay and the surrounding
    waterways constitute an area with historically significant
    shellfish harvesting but is threatened by a decline in the growth
    rate of the primary harvest species, the hard clam. This pilot
    study will assess the relationship between the growth of hard
    clams on aquaculture farms and the occurrence of phytoplankton
    communities in the water column. In collaboration with
    researchers from Rutgers University Haskin Shellfish Research
    Laboratory and NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, water
    samples will be collected and analyzed for multiple water quality
    characteristics including temperature, salinity, and abundance
    and biodiversity of phytoplankton communities. Additional data
    will be provided by NOAA regarding the condition of the meat
    taken from sampled clams. Water samples will be taken from three
    NJ bivalve farm sites located at Middle Island Channel, Dry Bay,
    and Great Sound. Upon completion, study information will be
    shared with other aquaculture farms to provide insight regarding
    the potential impact of phytoplankton presence on the growth rate
    of farmed bivalve species. If findings show that there is a
    possible correlation between phytoplankton communities and the
    decline in growth of clams, further studies can be conducted to
    determine what variables, in tandem with phytoplankton
    occurrences, are negatively affecting farmers’ marketable
    product. Study outcomes will be shared through the Parsons
    Seafood & Mariculture business webpage and social media and have
    the potential to be shared at meetings of the NJ Shellfish
    Association and NJ DEP Shellfish Council, which both provide a
    platform for the aquaculture community.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The objective of this pilot study
    is to answer the questions of “where?” “what kind?” and “how
    much?” regarding phytoplankton communities in the waters
    surrounding aquaculture farms. Sampling will be performed in New
    Jersey at Middle Island Channel, Dry Bay, and Great Sound to
    facilitate comparison between different bodies of water that all
    contain aquaculture farms. Samples will be analyzed to determine
    the clades of phytoplankton present and at what concentration
    they are present. With this investigation, we aim to discover
    whether phytoplankton could be a contributing factor in the
    differences aquaculture farms have experienced, where some
    entities have consistent growth rate in their product while
    others have experienced a notable decrease in growth rate.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.