Thursday, May 7, 2009

Maryland Opens Door for Shellfish Farming

We have been talking to folks from Maryland for years about doing what we do and only a handful have been able to get into the business because of some carzy laws in their state for leasing. Well, that is all going to change with the passing of the shellfish aquacultural bill as you will read below. So, if you want to grow clams or oysters in Maryland the door has just been opened, get going you still have time to get set up for this season.


Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley has signed into law a new ShellfishAquaculture Leasing bill (Senate Bill 271/House Bill 312) that revises leasing laws to make it easier for shellfish growers in the state. The bill stems from a visit the Governor made to shellfish aquaculture businesses last August and is another of Governor O'Malley's "Smart, Green and Growing" initiatives from the 2009 Legislative Assembly. At a press conference held after his visit to Great Eastern Chincoteague Oysters and Gordon's Shellfish, LLC, O'Malley said that he wanted a new aquaculture bill on his desk within 60 days. The State's Aquaculture Coordinating Council was asked to provide direction for the plan. Recommendations provided by that Council led to an administration bill that passed unanimously in both legislative houses this session. It is the first time in 103 years that the leasing laws of Maryland have been changed to encourage industry growth. "Expanding opportunities for shellfish aquaculture in Maryland waters is vital to the health and economic prosperity of the Chesapeake and coastal bays," said Governor O'Malley. "These changes will not only help restore important aquatic populations - like our native oyster - but also create jobs for Maryland's working families. "The new law gets rid of the classification of Natural Oyster Bars that have been off limits to leasing for the last century. They are replaced withPublic Shellfish areas that have been actively used during the past three years. Proponents of the new bill pointed out that most of the historical bars had long died out but that shell to create new oyster growing areas was still there and could be renovated by private industry. The bill should lead to thousands of new acres being available for lease. The bill gets rid of prohibitions on leasing in many county waters, mostly on the Eastern Shore, where oyster growing could be profitable. It continues leasing to residents but for the first time makes them available to nonresidents and corporations. It removes size restrictions on the amount of land that can be leased, and will replace former limits by mandating use and creating production standards that will be regularly reviewed to keep a lease active. Aquaculture Enterprise Zones, new areas that provide locations for surface and water column production, are authorized. These will have the State become the permit holder from federal agencies, subleasing plots to private growers. This will cut down the time consuming process for individuals to obtain permits, help spur private investment in leasing operations, and encourage commercial watermen to transition into aquaculture. Twenty-fivepercent of AEZs will be held for current watermen until 2011, in order to give them a chance to transition to aquaculture. The new bill gets rid of most old laws on shellfish aquaculture enacted during the past century. The Aquaculture Coordinating Council recommended that regulatory authority be granted to agencies for flexibility rather than relying on the passage of laws that had bogged down the previous leasing program. These changes will give commercial waterman, farmers and others the opportunity to farm shellfish, helping to revitalize Maryland's oyster industry and increase oyster and clam populations in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays. This law will help bring Maryland in line with states such as Virginia where the hard clam aquaculture industry is a $50 million business supporting several hundred jobs in mostly rural areas. "Today's bill signing signals the great potential for expanding aquafarming in a way that is smart, green and growing for our environment, our economy,and employment," said Agriculture Secretary Earl F. "Buddy" Hance. "Aquaculture businesses and watermen look forward to the creation of the enterprise zones and opening of bottom leases so that they can get to work farming shellfish in the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays and bringing Maryland's outstanding seafood products to market. " The Maryland Department of Agriculture has long supported aquaculture. Their Aquaculture Coordinator chairs the Aquaculture Review Board, formed by the legislative action in 2005 with members of agencies responsible for permitting meeting regularly for ensuring action on applications. The MDA also is home to the Aquaculture Coordinating Council which has created Best Management Practices, helped develop the Aquaculture Enterprise Zone concept, and aided in creating the recommendations that led to this new law.

Don Webster
Regional Extension Specialist
University of Maryland Cooperative Extension
Wye Research & Education Center
Queenstown MD
Work: 410-827-5377x127

I can think of a few more states that may want to follow MD's example...DE,NC..., but we kinda like the fact other states haven't figured it out yet...more oysters and clams for the VA growers to sell.