Monday, June 20, 2011

Maryland Oyster Farming Off to a Slow Start

Layers of Regulation Blamed
Encouraged by a new state policy to boost private oyster farming, Jay Robinson and Ryan Bergey applied last fall to lease upward of 1,000 acres in Fishing Bay in southern Dorchester County. They planned to "plant" 100 million hatchery-spawned oysters on the bottom there this year and raise them for sale to restaurants and seafood wholesalers.

Nine months later, Robinson and Bergey are still waiting for the green light to launch their aquaculture business, named the Waterman's Trust.
Whatever could be delaying the process?

Of 26 applications reviewed by the Department of Natural Resources since the fall for new leases to grow oysters on the bottom of either the Chesapeake Bay or the state's coastal bays, only one has been issued. Of eight other leases applied for raising bivalves in floating trays or sacks off the bottom, six have been okayed. And there are seven off-bottom lease applications still awaiting approval that were submitted before last fall, according to Karl Roscher, aquaculture coordinator in the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
While I think that putting oysters in floats is more progressive, and more likely to succeed, I fail to see any good reasons why it should be that onerous to get a leased bottom.
To help budding aquaculturists, the state has offered more than $2 million in subsidized loans and provided training and technical help.

But frustrated oyster farmers say their startups have been slowed by having their plans reviewed by three state agencies, and then by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Until recently, only the state had regulated raising oysters on the bottom, a practice pursued by some Marylanders for decades. The Corps had required federal permits for raising oysters in the water, either in floating trays or in sacks suspended from the surface. But lately the federal agency, which is charged with regulating activity in wetlands and waterways, has begun requiring bottom oyster growers to get a federal permit as well.
 So now, in addition to the three state agencies approval, approval from the Army Corps is required too?  And as we've seen in Virginia, they have their own agenda, and it may not include people raising oysters in places not of their choosing, and available for subsequent harvest.  While I agree with that posture when it comes to Federal Oyster Restoration money, it seems anti-productive when applied to private firms who want to raise oysters for harvest.

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