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For Immediate Release: January 26, 2005 Contact:

Lynne Richmond

(ATLANTIC CITY) – New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Charles M. Kuperus and Andrew M.G. Law, State Director for the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development Program, today awarded a $47,100 USDA Value-Added Producer Grant to a group of seven aquaculture producers in the state for the marketing of clams under the Jersey Seafood brand name.

“Expanding upon New Jersey’s successful Jersey Fresh branding and marketing program, this new Jersey Seafood brand of clams will highlight that the Garden State is home to high quality shellfish,” said Secretary Kuperus. “The USDA Value-Added grant program provides essential economic resources so that new ventures such as this can take the first steps to success.”

The seven entrepreneurs of the newly formed New Jersey Seafood Marketing Group will use the grant to begin their efforts to launch and market a Jersey Seafood brand of clams. New Jersey Department of Agriculture staff, as well as professionals from Rutgers Cooperative Extension and Food Innovation Center, will assist the group in its marketing efforts.

“We in Rural Development are enthusiastic about the creativity demonstrated by these entrepeneurs and benefits of the value-added grant program,” said Andrew Law. “With the assistance of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture, professional branding with the Jersey Seafood logo, our seafood industry will be recognized for its fresh shellfish -- with its corresponding shelf life -- harvested in the Garden State. The industry will be strengthened and the new branding will help create a continuing and sustainable economic climate for family-owned shellfish operations now and into the future.”

The New Jersey Seafood Marketing Group, led by George Mathis – a third generation bayman who operates Mathis Clam Farm in Egg Harbor Township -- will sell high quality, fresh, locally- raised hard clams, in mesh bags at local retail establishments and farm markets. The group will be the first in the state using newly developed Jersey Seafood standards and brand logo for an aquacultured product.

“I hope that the quality standards that we are implementing as well as the new packaging, will go a long way towards furthering consumer interest and purchasing of the best available products,” said Mathis. “Jersey's best seafood is joining Jersey Fresh in setting the standard for only the best of quality.”

New Jersey fishermen harvest a wide variety of seafood in addition to clams, including scallops, blue crabs, mackerel, squid, monkfish and flounder. In 2003, 170 million pounds of seafood was harvested, valued at $120 million. Six major commercial ports thrive in the state – Cape May, Atlantic City, Belford, Point Pleasant, Point Norris and Barnegat Light. In 2003, Cape May was the sixth largest port in the nation landing $74 million dollars of seafood. The New Jersey Seafood Retail and Import Export industry has annual sales in excess of 2 billion dollars.

New Jersey also is home to at least 152 aquaculture farms with total sales estimated in 1998 at $5.8 million. This includes 86 hard clam farms, 34 oyster farms, and 14 farms producing both types of shellfish. New Jersey has the second highest number of molluscan farms in the Northeast and ranks third in sales from those farms. In 1998, these farms account for an estimated $3.3 million in sales. The total acreage of aquatic farms in New Jersey is 1,466 of which 1,402 are saltwater and 64 are fresh water.

In 2004, New Jersey established a program to license the possession and ownership of aquacultured stock. Currently, 138 licenses have been issued to aquatic farmers in the state.

To emphasize the significant seafood industry in New Jersey, a Jersey Seafood website was developed by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture last year. Found at www.jerseyseafood.nj.gov, the site provides consumers with a wide array of information on seafood products from the Garden State. The Jersey Seafood concept underscores the fresh and healthy nature of seafood caught or grown in close proximity to the markets where it is sold.

“Besides the variety, great taste and healthy diet benefits of our seafood, the industry is an integral part of the state’s heritage and economy,” said Kuperus. “Through joint ventures such as this and the USDA Value-Added grant program, the state’s shellfish industry will be strengthened.”

Value-Added Producer Grants may be used for planning activities and working capital for marketing value-added agricultural products and for farm-based renewable energy. Eligible applicants are independent producers, farmer and rancher cooperatives, agricultural producer groups, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures. The maximum amount that can be awarded is $500,000, and all grant funds must be matched by an equal amount of funds from the applicant or a third party. In 2004, approximately $13.2 million was available for grant awards.