After a comprehensive investigation into the hiring potential of 130 nationwide firms involved in the oyster reef restoration industry, the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness today released a report, “RESTORING GULF OYSTER REEFS: Opportunities for Innovation,” finding that oyster reef restoration projects could provide quadruple economic returns for the Gulf Coast states.
The study comes as Congress is in the final stages of considering passage of the RESTORE the Gulf Coast States Act. The legislation would ensure that billions of dollars in penalties for the 2010 Gulf oil disaster would be returned to the region and dedicated to gulf restoration. This legislation, along with billions of dollars from the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment for the disaster, could be used to repair the badly-damaged gulf ecosystem and jumpstart the gulf economy.
“America’s oyster reefs are a hidden jewel that provide quadruple economic returns,” said Shawn D. Stokes, Research Analyst for the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance, & Competitiveness. “They maximize the return on investment in coastal restoration by boosting industries vital to the U.S. economy, supporting the nation’s largest fishing industries, stabilizing and protecting the valuable Gulf Coast, and filtering water to provide clean, safe, beautiful areas for recreation and tourism industries – in addition to creating jobs in a new emerging industry for oyster reef restoration.”
Among its key findings, the study identified 130 firms directly (e.g. oyster harvesting) and indirectly (e.g. materials and construction) involved with oyster reef industry and concluded that incorporating innovative oyster reef designs into the Gulf Coast states’ oil spill restoration efforts would provide new job opportunities in the Gulf and 17 other states. More than 80 percent of the identified employment locations are based in the five Gulf states, and 68 percent of the firms qualify as small businesses by sales, according to Small Business Administration guidelines. Many of these firms are small, innovative startup companies striving to be at the forefront of the emerging oyster reef industry. Healthy oyster reefs, as nurseries for fish, are vital to the 200,000 jobs in the region’s $2.4 billion fishing industry.
“Investments in oyster reefs help small businesses like ours create jobs, build innovative products and support our local economy,” said Stephen Addington, co-owner of Gulf Coast Aggregates near Carrabelle, Fla. “Restoration is not only good for small businesses, it is vital for the economy here in the panhandle – now and in the future.”
“Our products can immediately be put to work in restoring the wetlands of Louisiana and in building oyster reefs that help our local economy thrive. With final passage of the RESTORE Act and the new projects it would fund, we can create needed jobs and help ensure a healthy future for our oysters,” said Stephanie Victory, President & CEO, HESCO Bastion USA, Inc.
Specifically, the study notes that:
- Increasing oyster production will generate revenue for the commercial oyster industry and create thousands of jobs in seafood processing. Oyster shuckers and seafood processors hold 30 to 50 percent of seafood industry-related jobs across the Gulf.
- One acre of oyster reef increases fisheries catch values by $4,200 a year by providing nooks and crannies of habitat for dozens of marine resident species.
- Each individual oyster filters up to 1.5 gallons of water per hour, removing excess nitrogen that contributes to marine dead zones, providing a service that avoids the need for expensive wastewater treatment plants to provide the same service.
- Each acre of oyster reef provides $6,500 in de-nitrification services annually.
- Oyster reefs stabilize bottom sediments, reduce wave energy, prevent erosion and fortify wetlands to serve as horizontal levees that provide $23 billion worth of storm protection annually to Gulf Coast businesses and communities as well as the oil and gas pipeline infrastructure offshore, which ensures economic and energy security for the United States.
The study also serves as a follow-up to an earlier Duke University study released in December, which determined that using Clean Water Act penalties from the 2010 oil disaster could create jobs that would benefit at least 140 businesses with nearly 400 employee locations in 37 states, including more than 260 in the Gulf Coast and 60 in Florida. Two-thirds of these companies also qualify as small businesses, and all would benefit from the dedication of gulf oil spill fines to gulf restoration funding, as through the RESTORE Act.
State-specific initiatives that are already underway, include:
- In Alabama, a broad coalition of organizations has initiated the “100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama” plan that sets out to build 100 linear miles of oyster reefs.
- In Louisiana, the Coastal Wetlands Planning Protection and Restoration Act agency is experimenting with a variety of oyster reef restoration designs as part of their regular coastal restoration demonstration projects to fortify against erosion from hurricane and storm waves.
- In Florida, most of the restoration projects are funded by the Department of Environmental Protection and are sub-tidal oyster cultch reefs designed to improve biodiversity, increase fishery production and provide shoreline protection.
- In Mississippi, The Nature Conservancy recently received two grant awards to build 35 acres of new oyster reef in a large area north of the east/west CSX rail line that prohibits commercial harvest of shellfish, which makes it an ideal location to expand restoration efforts.
- In Texas, the Parks and Wildlife Department has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to install sub-tidal cultch reefs in order to boost marine fisheries production.
The study was made possible by support from the Walton Family Foundation.