How data helped establish the first offshore mussel farm in the federal waters of the Atlantic.

The Challenge:

Aquaculture is fast becoming an important part of the ocean-based economy around the world. While its full potential has yet to be explored in the United States, two biologists at the Northeastern Massachusetts Aquaculture Center (NEMAC) at Salem State University recognized it could benefit traditional fishing communities like Gloucester. With catches of previously abundant species dwindling, Ted Maney and Mark Fregeau saw the potential in an offshore mussel farm that would allow fishermen to supplement other commercial fishing activities. The challenge lay in navigating the complex system of laws and interests of ocean users that also depended on the same area of ocean.


The Process:

The ocean is an increasingly busy space and the proposal for the mussel farm would need to be reviewed and approved by several federal and state agencies to ensure it wasn’t going to impact other ocean uses and the marine ecosystem. Maney, Fregeau and the NEMAC team turned to the Northeast Data Ocean Portal to pull together their proposal. They used several maps including oceanographic parameters, fishing activity in the area, vessel traffic and a data overlay that maps the presence of endangered animals like the North Atlantic Right Whale.


In 2013, NEMAC was able to submit a proposal for a mussel farm in federal waters off Cape Ann. A phased approach began with a 400-foot longline submerged to a depth of 50 feet and anchored to the ocean floor. One hundred 25-foot lines would be suspended from the longline on which mussels would grow. If the project was expanded in the future, the farm could eventually cover 33 acres with many longlines.


The Results:

The Northeast Data Portal provided access to a plethora of data that otherwise would be scattered among more than two dozen federal and state agencies that manage the ocean. In the past, lack of access to these data meant lengthy negotiations and long delays in applying for permits. Using the Data Portal, NEMAC was able to propose a mussel farm that would have little or no negative impacts on fishing activity, commercial and recreational vessel activity and marine mammals. Access to this data made the cross-check with existing laws easier and more efficient when applying for the permits.


In 2015, NEMAC was issued a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers to establish the mussel farm. And, by August 2016, Fregeau and Maney set up the initial 400-foot longline that they expect to produce a yield of approximately 15,000 pounds of mussels.


Now, the NEMAC blue mussel farm is the first offshore shellfish farm in federal waters on the Atlantic Coast. The result is a test case and research site for sustainable shellfish with the hopes of providing another approach to grow the Atlantic’s blue ocean economy.



Ted Maney, NEMAC

“The Northeast Ocean Data Portal was instrumental in obtaining the necessary information to complete these assessments.”


Learn More:

Read the full case study here

Read about other supporters in the aquaculture industry here

Photography by David Smith (background)