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Prospective Future for Oyster Aquaculture in Delaware

Economics Politics +2 more

US - Demonstration of successful oyster growth throughout the Inland Bays, along with interest in the commercial production of oysters prompted the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays to begin to explore the potential of commercial aquaculture in the Inland Bays.

Lucy Towers thumbnail

One year after creating the Inland Bays Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team and naming E.J. Chalabala, Restoration Coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB), to lead it, the CIB Board of Directors approved the final report from the team at their meeting on 22 March.

The Tiger Team was charged with exploring the opportunities and challenges in bringing shellfish aquaculture back to the Inland Bays. Delaware is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a shellfish aquaculture industry, one that could bring not only economic benefits to Delaware, but also ecological benefits to the beleaguered Inland Bays.

With annual revenue of $119 million on the east coast alone, the shellfish aquaculture industry is growing fast, fueled by demand for local seafood, and restaurant interest in serving and locally-sourced food.

Presently, shellfish aquaculture is prohibited by law under the Delaware State Code, so the first step to clear the way for this new business on the Inland Bays would require changes to the Code which must be ratified by the Delaware State Legislature. Many stakeholders are hopeful that the legislation will be introduced in the current legislation session.

Eleven member agencies each held one voting seat on the Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team; the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Fish and Wildlife; DNREC Watershed Stewardship; DNREC Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands; DE Department of Agriculture (DDA); University of Delaware Sea Grant; Sussex County Economic Development Office; recreational interests; commercial clamming and oyster industry interests; the Shellfish Advisory Council, and the CIB.

Three sub-committees were formed and prepared reports and recommendations for the Tiger Team. ‘Information Gathering and Synthesis’ mapped potential lease sites and developed the Potential Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Areas Report; ‘Policy Funding and Permitting’ prepared draft Code that would assist the State Legislature in crafting legislation and estimated the cost of administering shellfish aquaculture production on the Inland Bays. The ‘Education and Outreach Sub-committee’ identified and reached out to additional stakeholder groups locally and statewide who had an economic or environmental interest in the initiative.

The draft code will be delivered to legislative sponsors shortly by representatives of the CIB, DNREC, and DDA.