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June 29, 2011

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)

Posted by Tim Wheeler at 7:05 PM | | Comments (1)


Thanks for tracking this story, Tim. And special thanks to Senators Mikulski and Cardin for their continuing efforts to see that oyster aquaculture has equal footing in Maryland as it does in Virginia (where it's flourishing as the result of a sensible and efficient permitting process).

I know of many intelligent, industrious, and dedicated Marylanders - chomping at the bit to get started in oyster aquaculture, but frustrated by the many layers of bureaucracy overseeing the permitting process. It seems that Federal regulators fail to grasp that oyster aquaculture represents a POSITIVE outcome for the environment and our society, and needs to be encouraged. Instead, we seem to have regulators looking for ways in which they can "plant their flag" and claim a stake of this developing industry. As an example, I find it particularly absurd that NOAA thinks oyster aquaculture might present some sort of threat to sturgeon, when even a yeoman marine biologist knows that oysters create the very *habitat* that sturgeon need to thrive.

So to our Federal regulators, please put Maryland on equal footing with Virginia, especially with regards to their efficient process for permitting new aquaculture enterprises. And please bear in mind, oyster aquaculture BENEFITS the environment and our society - as such, please make it easier for Marylanders to engage in this important occupation.

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About the bloggers
Tim WheelerTim Wheeler reports on the environment and Chesapeake Bay. A native of West Virginia, he has focused mainly on Maryland's environment since moving here in 1983. Along the way, he's crewed aboard a skipjack in the bay, canoed under city streets up the Jones Fall from the Inner Harbor, and gone deep underground in a western Maryland coal mine. He loves seafood, rambles in the country and good stories. He hopes to share some here.

Contributor Christy Zuccarini has been blogging about the local DIY craft scene for a year for She brings her pespective on all things handmade to B'More Green, where she will highlight projects you can do yourself as well as crafters who are integrating sustainable methods and materials.

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