MD senators press feds on oyster farming permits
Maryland's two US senators have written a top Obama administration official expressing their frustration over federal delays in approving new oyster farming ventures in the state's portion of the Chesapeake Bay.
Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Ben Cardin, both Democrats, wrote Jane Lubchenco, undersecretary of commerce who directs the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, complaining that her agency is endangering the state's fledgling aquaculture industry by taking so long to review permits needed by the new oyster farms.
As I reported last week, only a handfull of the new oyster-growing enterprises that have applied in the past year to lease areas in the bay and its rivers have received final approval. State officials say some are held up by objections from waterfront property owners or from watermen, but many are awaiting approval of permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps consults with NOAA, and the federal oceans and fisheries agency has raised questions about the impacts of oyster farming operations on endangered sturgeon and sea turtles. NOAA and Corps officials both told me they were on verge of working everything out and should be issuing more permits soon.
"NOAA's role in this process is necessary, and one that we fully support," the senators wrote in a letter last wek to Lubchenco. But they added that the amount of time NOAA officials have taken is "unreasonable."
"This work began well over a year ago, with promises that issues were being worked out time and again," they wrote. "Time is up." Saying the permit delays are putting new jobs in jeopardy and stalling economic opportunities in coastal communities, they called on NOAA to wrap up its review "immediately" and give the Corps its final feedback "without further delays."
(Jay Robinson, director of the Watermen's Trust, with a pile of oyster shells he plans to use to raise oysters in Fishing Bay south of Cambridge. Batimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum)