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U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse and Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline announced an award of $745,815 in federal funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Rhode Island Sea Grant program at the University of Rhode Island.  The funds will help strengthen training programs for entry‐level aquaculture workers in Rhode Island and support the development of an online training curriculum that can be deployed nationwide.

“Year after year, Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry continues to grow, producing jobs as wells as high-value seafood that’s enjoyed up and down the East Coast.  This new federal grant will expand job training opportunities and help Rhode Island continue to cultivate homegrown businesses,” said Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, who has worked for decades to grow the state’s aquaculture industry and authored the Aquaculture Employment Investment Act to allocate resources to states for job training, technical assistance, and other aquaculture-related projects.

“Rhode Island seafood feeds the country, and Rhode Island Sea Grant helps train the country’s seafood workforce,” said Whitehouse.  “These federal resources will help more people find good jobs at our state’s shellfish farms.”  Whitehouse worked to include a provision in the 2018 Farm Bill to increase the availability of new, workable insurance options for shellfish farmers.

“This federal funding will help strengthen workforce training in Rhode Island’s robust aquaculture industry,” said Langevin.  “As co-chair of the Congressional Career and Technical Education Caucus, I strongly support the mission of this project, and I will continue to advocate for programs that provide residents of the Ocean State with the skills necessary to find good-paying jobs.”

“Aquaculture is an important industry in the Ocean State,” said Cicilline. “This federal investment in a work training program will help create good-paying jobs and allow potential employees to gain critical skills needed in this industry.”

The funding will be used to bolster an in-person, entry-level training curriculum for aquaculture farm workers in Rhode Island to improve worker safety, promote critical skills, and boost employee recruitment and retention.  Rhode Island Sea Grant will develop an online worker training based on the in-person program that can be adopted by other states to promote aquaculture workforce training and production across the country.  Rhode Island Sea Grant will lead a national “train-the-trainer” pilot program to expand in-person and online training in select states.

Rhode Island Sea Grant Extension supports Rhode Island’s commercial fishing and aquaculture communities by providing scientific and research-based expertise to public and private sector entities.  The program also focuses on seafood safety and health issues in partnership with other Sea Grant programs and universities nationwide, and provides seafood safety trainings for government and professional groups.

Rhode Island’s aquaculture industry has grown dramatically over the past two decades.  The state’s 73 shellfish farms sold more than 8.4 million oysters in 2017, according to the Rhode Island Coastal Resources Management Council.  While oysters comprise the bulk of Rhode Island’s shellfish aquaculture production, farmers in Rhode Island also grow clams, scallops, and mussels.

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