State reduces initial lease sites in Inland Bays
Maddy Lauria, Cape Gazette
March 24, 2016
Nearly a quarter of proposed aquaculture lease sites in the Inland Bays have been withdrawn from a streamlined leasing program.
State environmental officials announced it will simplify the permitting process for commercial shellfish aquaculture in the Inland Bays by using a statewide approval process, which will be facilitated by the state's Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands section.
However, the leasing program will not begin until the department receives approval for expedited national permits through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The process “is designed to help bring more certainty to applicants and the public through the use of maps that identify areas that are appropriate for aquaculture operations,” state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary David Small said in a press release. “We feel this approach gives consideration to property owners who had concerns about aquaculture in their area.”
A public comment period on the statewide approval process is open through April 12.
Delaware's aquaculture regulations, which went into effect August 2014, initially proposed 442 one-acre plots for lease in the Inland Bays, with 118 leasable acres in Little Assawoman Bay, 115 acres in Indian River Bay and 209 acres in Rehoboth Bay.
The process reduces available acreage in Indian River Bay by 24 acres, from 115 to 91 one-acre plots, while in Little Assawoman Bay, only 43 one-acre plots remain from the original 118. Lease sites in Rehoboth Bay have not been changed. All plots are divided by 20-foot wide navigation channels.
A DNREC spokesman said the previously established shellfish areas have not been altered, but some were not included in the statewide application to guide shellfish aquaculture to areas most compatible with boaters and property owners.
No leases will be issued by the Division of Fish & Wildlife, however, until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers makes a decision on the state's application for an expedited federal permit process. Without the corps' approval, aquaculturists would be required to apply for permits at both the state and federal levels.
After regulations were finalized and published in 2014, coastal residents opposed some shellfish aquaculture development areas, or SADAs, near Beach Cove in Indian River Bay and Little Assawoman Bay, calling for their removal from the program. The new process has eliminated those debated lease areas.
Residents with waterfront property on Indian River Bay and Little Assawoman Bay also complained that aquaculture gear and plot markers would be unsightly and would interfere with navigation and recreation on parts of the Inland Bays. They also opposed the department's public meeting process during the development of the program.
Those original shellfish leasing areas and other program details were developed in part by the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays Tiger Team, established in March 2012, with representatives from the center, DNREC, Department of Agriculture, University of Delaware Sea Grant, Sussex County Economic Development, Delaware Shellfish Advisory Council, University of Maryland Extension Service, recreation interests, commercial clammers and fisherman.
The Tiger Team hosted more than a dozen public meetings throughout more than a year of research and information gathering, followed by formal public workshops, a public hearing and a public comment period in 2014.
Opponent Steve Callanen, who still has complaints about the state's commercial aquaculture plans for the Inland Bays, said he's pleased lease sites in Beach Cove and Little Assawoman Bay have been removed and reduced.
“There are lots of issues that really the public has not been made aware of and this is all being sold as a way to make millions of dollars for the state,” he said, adding that he doubts oysters will have any impact on cleaning up the bays. “I hope that at least they will select some sites that are not going to interfere with recreational boating and that will not also interfere with the people that live right along the shoreline.”
Fenwick Island resident Diane Maddex, of the Coalition for Little Assawoman Bay, said her group is pleased sites in Little Assawoman Bay were removed, but she plans to continue working with state officials to address other issues including “excessive, intrusive markers and the need to make permanent this reduction in the number of shellfish plots.”
Georgetown commercial fisherman Steve Friend, who plans to lease 3 acres in Little Assawoman Bay for clam harvesting, said the state has given in to opponents who didn't give watermen like him a chance to demonstrate what aquaculture will actually look like.
“You're giving up a lot for them to have just because they don't want the view,” he said. “I'm sorry, but that's life. You only own what your property is sitting on. They're making it so hard for the people who actually want to get into this.”
Friend said he's invested tens of thousands of dollars in his future aquaculture venture. He calls it unfair to remove questionable plots without replacing them in other locations.
If the state receives the approval to expedite leases through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Philadelphia District, the first leases would be determined by a lottery, annually renewable for 15 years. The application fee for a 1-acre aquaculture lease is $300, with annual renewal fees for Delaware residents costing an additional $100 per acre. The annual renewal fee for nonresidents is $1,000 per acre. Farmers will be able to lease 1-5 acres in Rehoboth and Indian River bays, and an additional 1-5 acres in Little Assawoman Bay.
For more information, go to www.dnrec.delaware.gov/fw/Fisheries/Pages/ShellfishAquaculture.aspx.