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Oyster farming in Delaware is a complicated issue

Oyster aquaculture operations for Arrowhead Point Oysters in Rehoboth Bay
SoDel Concepts
Delaware Independent
Oyster aquaculture operations for Arrowhead Point Oysters in Rehoboth Bay

Oyster farming in Delaware could bring major benefits to the beaches, but there are barriers holding it back.

As demand for seafood rises, the number of oyster farmers in Delaware is shrinking.

Oyster farmers say they are facing a number of challenges including difficulty getting their oysters to market and supply shortages.

But the outlook for the aquaculture industry looks positive overall.

Mike Dickinson is the vice president of SoDel Concepts, which owns 16 beach area restaurants. He says many tourists, especially those coming from areas with no beaches, want to “buy local.”

“You don’t want to necessarily eat what you can get at home. You want to eat something that has a true sense of place,” explained Dickinson. “So if you can go out and you can say, ‘Oh my gosh, I had groceries that were grown five miles from the restaurant where I ate like that.’ That's a huge thing.”

Dickinson adds this time of year they serve 25,000 to 30,000 guests a week at their restaurants, and in the summer that spikes to 45,000 to 50,000 a week, making it clear that there is a demand for local seafood.

Oyster farming not only helps the local aquaculture industry, but also helps clean up local waterways.

And Mark Casey, owner of Delaware Cultured Seafood, says cleaner water could draw more tourists.

“This body of water is… tens, or hundreds of thousands of people that want to do recreation. It's tens, or hundreds of thousands of people that want to come in for tourism,” he said. “And if we can switch our minds to turn this water into pristine water, like it used to be- and literally you could walk out here and in your waist deep and see your feet, just 60 years ago.”

Ed Hale studies oysters and aquaculture. He says just one adult oyster can filter 45 gallons of water a day when it's actively feeding, and provide valuable habitats to local aquatic life.

“We know it benefits the environment. We know it benefits the economy. We know it improves our local waterways. So it’s very much one of these practices that is completely a win-win-win-win,” said Hale.

Hale adds that global trends suggest the industry has the potential to grow 8 percent per year, emphasizing the room for increased oyster farming in Delaware.

This story comes from Delaware independent – an email newsletter for southern Delaware. More reporting on it can be found at

Quinn Kirkpatrick was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware and graduated of the University of Delaware. She joined Delaware Public Media in June 2021