Last coastal US state permits shellfish farming

Aquaculture firms and other organizations are celebrating after Delaware passed a bill allowing shellfish aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays. Delaware is the last coastal state in the U.S. to permit shellfish farming.

“Supporting this industry represents another example of how we can enact policies that boost our economy and generate millions of dollars for our state, while also better protecting our environment,” Delaware Governor Jack Markell said when he signed H.B. 160 into law last week.

“Our Inland Bays are really great for aquaculture and there are large portions of our bays that aren’t used for recreation. Eventually shellfish aquaculture will be a multimillion dollar industry [in the state],” Chris Bason, executive director of Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (DCIB), told SeafoodSource.  

Delaware could realize gross income of more than USD 2.5 million (EUR 1.9 million) per year, with a total economic impact of more than USD 6 million (EUR 5.4 million), the DCIB found.

The other major benefit of aquaculture production in the Inland Bays’ estuaries is improving the health of its waters.

“Aquaculture is an innovative way to get pollutants out of the water. As shellfish grow, they are accumulating nitrogen and phosphorous [from past and present agriculture activity and urban runoff] into their shells. Once you harvest them, that mass is taken out of the water,” Bason said.

In order to pass the legislation, DCIB organized a coalition of community stakeholders, including aquaculture firms.

“Broadwater Oyster Co. in Virginia was very supportive. The owner lives in Delaware and has to go to Virginia [to farm oysters],” Bason said. “There are also a number of existing watermen, who see the potential of adding aquaculture to their commercial operations.”

To that end, Bason is hopeful that state agencies will support the new aquaculture industry in Delaware with financial and technical assistance. “Other states have low-interest loans and other assistance. It helps make for competitive business. There is a lot of potential, particularly for oysters,” Bason said.

The regulations implementing the new aquaculture law will likely not be finalized until the summer of 2014, state officials estimate.


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