The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control adopted a process for abbreviated review and approval of shellfish aquaculture leases by DNREC’s Division of Water.

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control adopted a process for abbreviated review and approval of shellfish aquaculture leases by DNREC’s Division of Water.

DNREC Secretary David Small approved a Statewide Activity Approval for use in considering applications for leasing state subaqueous lands for shellfish aquaculture in Little Assawoman, Rehoboth and Indian River Bays. The SAA will be applicable to 343 acres rather than the 442 acres that were approved as shellfish aquaculture development areas under regulations adopted in 2014. DNREC is expecting that aquaculturists will seek SAA approvals due to the abbreviated process allowed, rather than individual permits that will be required for all other areas suitable for aquaculture that are outside of those approved under the SAA.

The portions of the SADA in the Little Assawoman Bay approved under the SAA process were limited to sections farther away from homes and areas potentially used by recreational boaters, sailors, kayakers and paddleboarders. The SADA in Beach Cove off Indian River Bay that was previously adopted by regulation is not eligible for approval under a SAA. DNREC also is committed to a future review of the regulations, including the potential permanent removal of some SADA areas and the requirement for marking the one-acre tracts with white PVC pipe. The provisions are included in the regulation and unable to be addressed by the establishment of a SAA for shellfish aquaculture.

Commercial shellfish aquaculture in the inland bays was facilitated by the 147th general assembly’s unanimous passage and signing into law by Gov. Jack Markell in 2013, of House Bill 160. The Division of Fish & Wildlife was charged with adopting regulations for the new program, in consultation with other state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, about how different aspects of shellfish aquaculture might affect the inland bays. The Division of Fish & Wildlife sought public opinion via two public meetings, followed by a public hearing and comment period on commercial shellfish aquaculture regulations as required by the Administrative Procedures Act. Concerns about the location of some shellfish aquaculture development areas surfaced after the public process and adoption of the regulations.

As shellfish aquaculture program development continued after regulations were adopted, the Division of Fish & Wildlife proceeded with steps to include less acreage under an abbreviated review and approval process than adopted in SADAs. The reduction was facilitated by Fish & Wildlife seeking required subaqueous lands approval for shellfish aquaculture through submission of a statewide activity approval application to DNREC’s Wetlands & Subaqueous Lands Section. The requested and approved SAA areas include 209 acres in Rehoboth Bay, 91 acres in Indian River Bay and 43 acres in Little Assawoman Bay.

Shellfish aquaculture lease applications will be accepted by the Division of Fish & Wildlife after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issues new nationwide permits in spring 2017. The Corps’ permits are issued on a five-year cycle with the current permits set to expire March 18. The new permits are expected to include conditioned approval of shellfish aquaculture. Afterward, the Division of Fish & Wildlife will begin accepting lease applications to award shellfish aquaculture leases through an initial lottery.

For more information, call 739-9943, 739-9914 or visit bit.ly/1UvkNo7.