WSG News Blog

Washington Sea Grant receives federal funding to train the next generation of the aquaculture workforce

August 30, 2023

Person walking across an oyster-filled tide flat. Washington Sea Grant (WSG) is pleased to have a project selected for funding through the NOAA Sea Grant Aquaculture Workforce Development Support Projects competition. 

The WSG project seeks to revive a previously successful crew training program by updating it to reflect current industry needs and adding a manager training component to equip employers with the necessary tools for recruiting and retaining a next-generation workforce. The project will provide the skills needed to be a successful farmhand through a crew training program; provide enhanced skills and resources for successfully recruiting and retaining a next-generation workforce through a manager training program; and evaluate the effectiveness of both programs in terms of employee recruitment and retention. 

The original crew training program was created and facilitated by John Peters, WSG seafood processing specialist, and was taught for about 20 years starting in the mid-1970s. The course focused on seafood processing, and was ultimately taught by about 30 seafood firms and federal agencies who were looking to fill quality assurance and quality control positions. “As a result of the program’s thoroughness and content, the students were prized employees and had no trouble getting a job,” says Teri King, WSG aquaculture and marine water quality specialist who helped develop training materials at the time. King is also the principal investigator on the new project. “Because of the real-life experiential training, the students knew what to expect and retention of those employees was high. This is the goal of the new training, too.” 

The new program will use the framework established by the original initiative but shifts its focus to recruiting and retaining shellfish workers. Students will learn skills such as installing and maintaining shellfish culture equipment; monitoring shellfish health; safety protocols for working on the water; basic navigation and small boat handling skills; and basic food safety and sanitation. 

In addition, the grant will support a new training for aquaculture business owners. “Farm managers are facing an uncertain labor landscape and a lack of local resources to support workers, making it difficult to recruit and retain an increasingly diverse pool of employees,” says Nicole Naar, WSG social science and education specialist. “In the new training, managers will learn about local tools and resources to address the housing, transportation, and mental and physical health needs of employees. They will also receive training on cross-cultural communication strategies and best practices for working with employees from diverse backgrounds.”

This funding opportunity was open to all Sea Grant programs. Seven projects were selected, which will receive a total of $2.4 million in federal funding to support aquaculture workforce projects in Washington as well as California, Connecticut, Hawaiʻi, American Samoa, Guam, Massachusetts, New Jersey and South Carolina. 

In addition to the Aquaculture Workforce Development Support Projects, NOAA is providing $976,215 in federal funding to support three projects from Alaska, Massachusetts and North Carolina through the Young Fishermen’s Career Development projects competition. 

“Supporting the training and development of seafood professionals is a priority for Sea Grant and a key component of ensuring sustainable U.S. fisheries and aquaculture,” says Jonathan Pennock, director of the National Sea Grant College Program. “We look forward to seeing the positive impacts the 10 selected projects will have across the country.”

These two funding opportunities and the selected projects are examples of the work Sea Grant does to support Sustainable Fisheries and Aquaculture. Sea Grant’s fisheries portfolio includes national and local fisheries research, technical assistance and support to fishermen by Sea Grant extension agents, and education and training programming offered by each of the 34 Sea Grant programs. Sea Grant’s aquaculture portfolio includes a broad range of research and technical assistance efforts to inform the U.S. Great Lakes, coastal, and marine aquaculture, including knowledge exchange hubs, technical research, social science, and resources for new business owners. 

Learn more about the other selected projects here

Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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