Shellfish is a generic term for aquatic invertebrates with shells. This may include both molluscs, such as oysters, clams, mussels and snails (whelks), and crustaceans, such as shrimp and crabs. The primary responsibility of MRRI's shellfish programs is to conduct research and monitoring programs related to the state's shellfish resources in order to provide recommendations, advice, reports, and supportive data to facilitate the proper management of the State's commercially and recreationally exploited shellfish resources so as to sustain fisheries while maintaining healthy stocks. This is largely addressed by:
- Monitoring selected oyster, clam, shrimp, and crab populations.
- Analyzing population trends, life history patterns, and interpreting environmental effects on monitored populations.
- Monitoring for invasive species.
Functionally, within MRRI, there are two groups conducting these activities: Crustacean Research focuses on crabs and shrimp and Shellfish Research focuses on oysters and clams.
Crustacean Research Section
Penaeid shrimp and blue crab constitute the top two commercial fisheries in South Carolina. In addition to their commercial importance, these species are also important recreationally, being pursued by thousands of fishermen each year. Studies include monitoring of stocks, understanding life history of adults and larvae, and community assessment. Horseshoe crabs are ecologically important and a small, but important, commercial crop due to the medical industry.
Shellfish Research Section
Oysters and clams support commercial and recreational fisheries and an aquaculture industry. In addition to their resource value, oysters create living habitat which is essential to many other estuarine species, influence water quality, and provide natural breakwaters. The Shellfish Research Section monitors the state of oyster and clam resources, studies oyster reef ecology, develops and evaluates oyster restoration methods, and assesses the success of restoration efforts This section also runs the successful community-based restoration program SCORE.