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Environmentally-determined production frontiers and lease utilization in Virginia’s eastern oyster aquaculture industry

Citation: Beckensteiner, J., Scheld, A. M., St-Laurent, P., Friedrichs, M. A. M., & Kaplan, D. M. (2021). Aquaculture, 542, 736883. doi:10.1016/j.aquaculture.2021.736883. September 2021.

During the last decade, oyster aquaculture has rebounded in Virginia and has been associated with an increase in subaqueous leased area. Production levels remain historically low, however, and many leases are thought to be underutilized. This study uses a novel approach leveraging high-resolution environmental data to evaluate lease utilization and identify constraints on aquaculture development. Stochastic Frontier Analysis (SFA) and Data Envelopment Analysis (DEA) were used to define environmentally-determined production frontiers, i.e. production possibilities based on empirical observations of aquaculture production, available space, and environmental conditions. Both methods estimated Lease Capacity Utilization (LCU, from 0 to 1) for leases producing oysters with intensive culture methods from 2007 to 2016. Models revealed significant heterogeneity in lease utilization and mean LCU scores of 0.25 (DEA) and 0.27 (SFA), which suggests many leases could scale up production or reduce the size of their lease to more efficiently utilize ambient environmental conditions (i.e., achieve scores closer to 1). Capacity underutilization arising from characteristics of the leaseholder and surrounding spatial environment were quantified and indicated efficiency gains for horizontally integrated leaseholders, though also suggested leases in more populated areas were less efficiently used, possibly due to increased use conflicts. These results highlight potential externalities and tradeoffs associated with aquaculture development and can inform the design of more efficient aquaculture leasing systems.

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The NOAA Ocean Acidification Program (OAP) works to prepare society to adapt to the consequences of ocean acidification and conserve marine ecosystems as acidification occurs. Learn more about the human connections and adaptation strategies from these efforts.

Adaptation approaches fostered by the OAP include:


Using models and research to understand the sensitivity of organisms and ecosystems to ocean acidification to make predictions about the future, allowing communities and industries to prepare


Using these models and predictions as tools to facilitate management strategies that will protect marine resources and communities from future changes


Developing innovative tools to help monitor ocean acidification and mitigate changing ocean chemistry locally


On the Road

Drive fuel-efficient vehicles or choose public transportation. Choose your bike or walk! Don't sit idle for more than 30 seconds. Keep your tires properly inflated.

With your Food Choices

Eat local- this helps cut down on production and transport! Reduce your meat and dairy. Compost to avoid food waste ending up in the landfill

With your Food Choices

Make energy-efficient choices for your appliances and lighting. Heat and cool efficiently! Change your air filters and program your thermostat, seal and insulate your home, and support clean energy sources

By Reducing Coastal Acidification

Reduce your use of fertilizers, Improve sewage treatment and run off, and Protect and restore coastal habitats

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You've taken the first step to learn more about ocean acidification - why not spread this knowledge to your community?

Every community has their unique culture, economy and ecology and what’s at stake from ocean acidification may be different depending on where you live.  As a community member, you can take a larger role in educating the public about ocean acidification. Creating awareness is the first step to taking action.  As communities gain traction, neighboring regions that share marine resources can build larger coalitions to address ocean acidification.  Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Work with informal educators, such as aquarium outreach programs and local non-profits, to teach the public about ocean acidification. Visit our Education & Outreach page to find the newest tools!
  2. Participate in habitat restoration efforts to restore habitats that help mitigate the effects of coastal acidification
  3. Facilitate conversations with local businesses that might be affected by ocean acidification, building a plan for the future.
  4. Partner with local community efforts to mitigate the driver behind ocean acidification  – excess CO2 – such as community supported agriculture, bike & car shares and other public transportation options.
  5. Contact your regional Coastal Acidification Network (CAN) to learn how OA is affecting your region and more ideas about how you can get involved in your community
       More for Taking Community Action