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Aquaculture Opportunity Zones Challenged

by the Fish Site Editor
25 January 2011, at 12:00am

US - A law that will designate part of the Virginia shoreline for commercial shellfish farming is being challenged by oyster farmers backed by a state senator.

According to a report in the Richmond Times Dispatch, a total of 1,000 acres off the shores of the Northern Neck, the Middle Peninsula and Tangier Island could be earmarked for commercial shellfish farming.

The proposal put forward by Delegate Albert C. Pollard Jr. sees the creation of Aquaculture Opportunity Zones to promote the transition of watermen from the wild harvest of shellfish.

The wild shellfish populations in the Chesapeake Bay area have suffered from pollution and disease in recent times.

But that effort could be undone by a bill introduced by state Sen. Ralph S. Northam that seeks to remove the authority of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission to create the zones, the report says.

It unanimously passed in the Senate last week and is on the way to the House Agriculture Committee for consideration.

Now Mr Pollard is fighting back.

On his website he says: "Last year Delegate Pollard passed a bill creating “Aquaculture Opportunity Zones”. “Aquaculture Opportunity Zones” simply requires the VMRC to set aside areas for aquaculture so that those wanting to break into the field didn’t have to pay for site selection, surveying, leasing, advertising, or plat recordation.

"Now, the idea is under attack by those already in the industry who don’t want others to get started."

He has called on the public to write in to voice their support for the scheme.

In a letter to the Virginia Marine Rewsources Commission he says: "As you know, aquaculture can be a cottage industry and the creation of these areas will help speed the transition of our local seafood economy and help economic development. While not a “silver bullet”, these areas will make it easier for folks to get into the industry. Additionally, these areas may help minimize user conflict because they are selected by agency staff.

"It certainly seems unfair that those, who are already leasing bottom and involved in aquaculture are trying to squelch an effort of new people getting into the industry. At a time when the mantra is “jobs, jobs, jobs”, it seems only proper for the VMRC to move forward with these zones."

However, according to the Times Dispatch report, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, a strong supporter of oyster aquaculture, said in a letter to the VMRC that it was aware of the industry concerns and recommended that VMRC establish AOZs on a test basis near Tangier Island.

The foundation suggested delaying the bay-wide implementation of the zones until VMRC evaluates the effectiveness of a pilot and holds further discussions with industry representatives.

the Fish Site Editor