Shellfish Crop Insurance Program Offers Oyster Producers Needed Protection from Environmental Challenges and More

The new Shellfish Pilot Crop Insurance Program, offered through the USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA), offers you, as an oyster producer, needed protection from environmental challenges and it also allows you to insure for a higher price based on your personal sales records. You are now eligible for protection against losses due to named storms, excessive heat during a low tide event, freeze during a low tide event, or low salinity due to excessive rainfall.

After the 2018 Farm Bill, shellfish producers expressed a strong desire for a crop insurance program tailored to their operations and needs, rather than modifying Whole Farm Revenue Protection options. So, in early 2020, we began hosting listening sessions with these producers, which led to the creation of RMA’s Shellfish Development Team and a contract to develop a pilot program that RMA rolled out in a limited area for the 2024 crop year.

Person in boat holding basket full of oysters
Oyster harvesting on the Gulf Coast – Panacea, FL, December 2022

Not only RMA, but the entire USDA, has improved its risk management options for shellfish producers. The new shellfish program leverages existing producer records, reducing record-keeping burdens. It offers personalized protection based on a producer’s oyster survival rates and prices. For some producers, relying on a county average price just doesn’t cut it.

RMA’s Shellfish Development Team, which included Regional Offices representing coastal areas and members from Product Management, represents teamwork at its finest. Creating a new shellfish program with limited historical data availability was no small task!

Four people standing in front of oyster banners
Members of RMA’s Shellfish Development TeamMatt Wilkin, Austin “Brook” Stuart, Falan Goff, and Chris RutlandOyster South Symposium, New Orleans, LA, February 29, 2024

There were a lot of challenges. Overall, the product is much different due to the diverse production methods and growth cycles of the crop. Accounting for these differences made it challenging to develop a product that would be actuarially sound while not making the program too burdensome to producers.  

This new shellfish program is incredibly important for aquaculture producers who are historically underserved by USDA programs. Additionally, with the global population projected to reach over 9 billion by 2050, there will be enormous demand for seafood products and a greater need for risk management options.  

As many you know, farmed oysters are a growing industry and one of the most sustainable seafoods available. But oyster producers face production risks like any other farmers and RMA is uniquely positioned to help them manage these risks.

This program allows producers who typically have not participated in government programs to have a risk management tool for a very unique crop. During our outreach efforts, there has been a lot of interest from other aquaculture sectors to be added to this program. 

{Erson examining oyster catcher baskets
USDA’s Shellfish Crop Insurance Program offers needed protection from environmental challenges you face and allows you to insure for a higher price based on personal sales records.

Of course, improving existing programs and expanding the commodities that Federal crop insurance covers is an ongoing effort. We are working with the FCIC Board of Directors to improve the shellfish program for 2025 and I’m hoping it can expand to other underwater farmed fish species in the future!

However, shellfish are part of a much bigger picture at RMA. We’re working every day to support the largest permanent Farm Safety Net program in the world. There were roughly $30 billion in Federal crop insurance liabilities nationwide about 25 years ago—today that figure is north of $200 billion.  

A key factor behind that enormous growth in a quarter century is program expansion.  When Federal crop insurance first became available 85 years ago, only wheat was covered.  Today, nearly 600 commodities are insured.  One sector of agriculture that has seen particular growth in coverage over the past few decades is aquaculture.  

Learn more about RMA’s Shellfish Crop Insurance Program.


Marcia Bunger is the Administrator for USDA’s Risk Management Agency