Shellfish are important components of estuarine and coastal ecosystems that play significant roles in maintaining healthy ecosystems. Many species provide a renewable resource to local and regional economies through fisheries and aquaculture. A variety of molluscan shellfish such as oysters, hard clams, surf clams, ocean quahogs and scallops are fished and farmed in New Jersey and the surrounding region. Shellfisheries and shellfish aquaculture are dependent upon good water quality and healthy ecosystems. Nationally, molluscan shellfish aquaculture is a 328+ million dollar industry supporting thousands of small farms and sustainable green jobs in rural areas (USDA 2014). Molluscan shellfish production increased 69% from 2005 to 2013. Farm-raised oyster production is increasing rapidly in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions (Hudson 2014, Calvo and Flimlin 2015) and other species are soon to follow. In comparison, NOAA reports molluscan fisheries landed $904,518 worth of shellfish in 2014 indicating that shellfisheries is likely worth several billion dollars to the US economy annually. In every case, fished or farmed shellfish are exposed to a plethora of ecological interactions, including parasitism, which can dramatically reduce production or affect human health. Shellfish can filter vast amounts of water which is magnified by the extensive assemblages that they can form in either natural or culture situations. As a result, shellfish contribute to ecosystem functioning by filtering water and providing habitat via the structures/assemblages formed by their shells. As filter feeders, shellfish can accumulate contaminants that are harmful to humans (e.g., Vibrio bacteria). Therefore, understanding shellfish ecology and pathology is of critical importance to the sustainable management of shellfish aquaculture and fisheries while protecting human health.The ability to detect pathogens, predict their presence, and control their impact is of paramount importance to the management of shellfish populations (wild or farmed) in New Jersey and elsewhere. It follows that by enhancing our understanding of host-pathogen-environment interactions we can identify potential control points and develop new or improve existing strategies to lessen the negative impacts of these pathogens. Successful strategies will lead to increases in aquaculture and fisheries production as well as improvements in the protection of human health. The overall goal of this project is to enhance our understanding of shellfish ecology and pathology so that better management strategies can be devised to minimize disease problems associated with production or consumption of harvestable shellfish and enhance the ecological services provided by shellfish. This goal directly addresses the NJAES mission "to enhance the viability, health, sustainability and overall quality of life in New Jersey by developing and delivering practical, effective solutions to current and future challenges to agriculture; fisheries; food; natural resources; environments; public health; and economic, community and youth development." Achieving this goal also addresses the USDA NIFA national research priorities as follows.Global Food Security and Hunger - this research directly addresses food production limitations in shellfish aquaculture and is directed specifically at limitations in production resulting from parasitism and disease.Climate Change - climate change has been directly linked to warming of the waters and ocean acidification, both of which affect host-parasite interactions by increasing physiological stress and altering species distributions. Maintaining high production capacities in the face of climate change will require an understanding of how changes in temperature, pH and alkalinity and other climate change related variables affects host and pathogen populations. In some systems, shellfish culture and restoration may offer a mitigation strategy for ocean acidification through assimilation of carbon and buffering of acidification with their shells.Sustainable Energy - a byproduct of shellfish aquaculture research is the mass production of phytoplankton that may be useful for the production of biofuels and or neutraceuticals.Childhood Obesity - this research will help ensure that nutritious shellfish are affordable and available to individuals and families in their pursuit of a healthier diet.Food Safety - specific components of this research directly address the ecology of human pathogens that accumulate in shellfish (e.g., Vibrio bacteria).Several broad objectives will be pursued to address the overall project goal using USDA support to leverage additional funding where possible. The broad objectives are:Study the life history, population dynamics and ecology of shellfish and their pathogens including spatial and temporal relationships with environmental correlates.Identify and examine the ecological processes that control human pathogen accumulation in shellfish.Develop and implement monitoring and surveillance programs for shellfish.Develop and evaluate shellfish restoration and enhancement programsWorking towards these objectives will ensure sustainable and safe harvest and production of shellfish with room to grow. Because these activities often occur in rural, economically depressed regions and communities, ensuring their viabilty and fostering growth represents an important priority.
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