Senators want US Army Corps of Engineers to fix aquaculture permit backlog
U.S. senators are calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to put together a plan to address a backlog of aquaculture permit applications.
Shellfish aquaculture projects typically require approval from the Corps, which will ensure their compliance with U.S. environmental laws. According to a 2019 report conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a Congressional watchdog organization, the Corps received 3,751 applications from 2012 through 2017.
Most shellfish aquaculture permits are approved by the Corps. According to the GAO, only 1 percent of the applications it received in that five-year period were rejected. 87 percent were approved, and the remainder were withdrawn.
The GAO interviewed 15 applicants as part of that report. While ten said that the 1 day to 4 months it took to receive a permit was reasonable, five said that the wait ranged from 18 days to 8 months and was unreasonable.
A Senate Appropriations Committee report on the 2024 Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill includes a provision requiring the Corps to brief the committee on its plans and progress on fixing that backlog within 45 days of enactment.
“The committee recognizes the strain of resources on the Corps to review and certify permitting applications for nationwide 48 permits for state-specific aquaculture activities,” the committee said in the report. “The Corps is directed to address staffing shortages and reduce aquaculture permit application backlogs, particularly in the Northwestern division.”
The provision is not part of the House Appropriations Committee report on the same appropriations package. Legislators will need to resolve that difference and others before the bill becomes law.
U.S. lawmakers have been keen to improve federal support for commercial shellfish aquaculture. Last month, federal legislators introduced the bipartisan Sustaining Healthy Ecosystems, Livelihoods, and Local Seafood (SHELLS) Act, which would create an office of aquaculture within the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote shellfish, seaweed, and land-based aquaculture operations and provide technical assistance.
“Shellfish harvesters and seaweed farmers play an essential role in our food supply, but historically they haven’t received the support they need to reach their full potential,” U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Oregon) said.
Photo courtesy of the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington