Friday, February 8, 2013

Aquaculture is Great - Just Not in My Backyard

A proposed water column lease in the Chincoteague Bay off South Point for the purpose of aquaculture has become the touchstone of a much larger debate about the public’s right to recreate in state waters and has now resulted in a bill introduced in the General Assembly aimed at preserving those fundamental and historic rights.

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is considering an application for a water column lease in a vast area off South Point pre-approved for aquaculture activities. However, residents in the area and others have filed a formal protest of the proposal, citing a possible infringement on their ability to use the site for recreation in the form of swimming, boating, fishing and other activities.

While the local residents against the proposal do not oppose aquaculture in a larger sense, they have voiced grave concerns about the site proposed for the lease under consideration and have filed a formal protest to the application. At a prior hearing with the Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH) in Baltimore County late last year, the protesting group did not make a strong showing and the OAH ruled in favor of the applicant and dismissed the appeal.
About that "right to recreate"?
According to a coalition of private citizens against the proposed aquaculture lease off South Point, it was stated during the administrative hearing, “On Maryland waters, Maryland does not recognize the right to recreate.” During the same hearing, the Attorney General’s office reportedly dismissed the public’s right to recreationally use the tidewaters in question, saying “the parties all own boats and navigate over the proposed leases, sometimes at night, and that they fish, jet ski, water ski, wake surf and engage in other recreational activities,” and further said “essentially they assert a right to recreate anywhere they would like on Chincoteague Bay, but as stated, there is no right to recreate.”
First, what they are losing is not "the right to recreate" it is the "the right to recreate anywhere I damn well please, including the waters most convenient to me".  Certainly, not all of Chincoteague Bay will be placed off limit, so their right to "recreate" is not being substantially affected.  They could always play shuffleboard or some other state approved game.

I do have some sympathy for their plight.  I would be a little resentful if the state suddenly decided to make a large portion of the Bay off my beach unavailable for boating and fishing to give to some private company to make money off.  However, it does happen, and it has to happen to some extent.  I lost several of my best fishing holes to "security zone" (really security theater zones) after 9/11/2001.  I don't like it, but I'm not taking the state, Constellation Energy Group or Dominion Gas to court to get them back; nor would I expect to win such an action.

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