North Carolina streamlines shellfish aquaculture permit process

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper recently signed into law Senate Bill 648, the Support Shellfish Aquaculture program, which establishes new large-scale leasing rules and a newly streamlined permitting process.

The “enterprise” areas proved to be one of the key reasons why this year’s effort on aquaculture was successful. The House passed Senate Bill 648, Support Shellfish Aquaculture, on June 12 in a 116-0 vote. In early May, the Senate approved the bill in a 47-0 vote, according to local press reports.

The new areas will be established for shellfish leasing ahead of time and are to have a faster, more streamlined permitting rules. 

Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Marine Fisheries officials said planning had started for implementing the bill, which was drafted at the division’s request. The initiatives are intended to reduce potential conflicts with other users of public trust waters and reduce legal fights over leases.

In an interview in June with the daily nonprofit online news service Coastal Review Online, which covers the North Carolina coast, the division’s director Steve Murphey said the program mirrors those in several other states, he said, including Florida, where nearly all the state’s shellfish leases are in enterprise areas.

“We have areas of the state where you can apply for a lease and there’s a public hearing and nobody shows up, but we have other areas of the state, particularly with these intensive and water column methods, where as soon as we receive the application we know we’re going to have a lot of conflict,” Murphey said. “Everybody has due process rights in this and so often times we’re in a situation where, regardless of what we do, we end up in court.”

The new law allows the creation of “one or more” enterprise areas. Murphey told Coastal Review Online the division plans to identify potential areas and then hold meetings with local stakeholders, including property owners, commercial and recreational fishing operations, tourism interests and county and municipal planning departments, to work through concerns. 

The sites would likely be about 20 to 40 acres and the leases could range between small, 1- or 2-acre parcels and the current maximum lease size of 10 acres, according to the final version of the law.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons


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