Governor Markell signed House Bill 160 today to permit shellfish aquaculture in Delaware's Inland Bays, allowing the state to reap the economic benefits of a multimillion dollar industry while improving water quality in the bays.
House Speaker Pete Schwartzkopf sponsored the legislation following an extensive review of the impact of shellfish aquaculture on the state. Center for Inland Bays (CIB) led a 14-month effort by a diverse committee of experts and stakeholders to explore the potential of shellfish aquaculture and address the challenges of the project. Working together, they came to agreement on revisions to existing Delaware code and worked to draft proposals.
"Due to the hard work of Speaker Schwartzkopf, Center for Inland Bays and its partners, DNREC, and the Department of Agriculture, we are establishing shellfish aquaculture in a responsible and beneficial way that respects the other activities in our bays," said Markell at the Center for Inland Bays office on the Indian River Inlet where he was joined by members of CIB's team. "Supporting this industry represents another example of how we can enact policies that boost our economy and generate millions of dollars for our state, while also better protecting our environment."
H B 160, authorizes DNREC to direct and control the shellfish aquaculture activities within the Inland Bays and to set criteria for the approval of lease sites and applications for leasing. In 2011, the shellfish aquaculture industry on the East Coast was valued at $119 million, with ten percent annual growth.
As a conservative estimate, shellfish aquaculture in the Inland Bays could realize gross income of more than $2.5 million per year, with a total economic impact of more than $6 million by only using one percent of the total bottom area of the Inland Bays. The bill has a permanent cap on the total lease area at five percent of Rehoboth Bay, five percent of Indian River Bay and ten percent of Little Assawoman Bay. DNREC will be charged with ensuring aquaculture takes place in areas where it does not conflict with other activities, such as boating and recreation.
Speaker Schwartzkopf, whose district includes Rehoboth Bay and abuts Indian River Bay, noted that oyster aquaculture would help greatly in filtering millions of gallons of water daily, removing excess nutrients from the bays.
"I have grown up around the Inland Bays, so I know how much of a treasured resource they are to our community and how big of a tourist attraction they are," said Rep. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. "This is also a resource that can produce millions of dollars in unrealized potential. We have seen states up and down the East Coast benefit from shellfish aqua farming, and we have seen what works and what doesn't.
"That's the beauty of this venture -- we aren't moving into uncharted waters. It's quite the opposite. This will create jobs, produce a local product for our restaurants and clean our Inland Bays. It will create a new multi-million dollar industry in Sussex County. When was the last time that happened?"
According to CIB, nutrient pollution continues to be the number one problem for Delaware's Inland Bays. While aquaculture will not solve all the problems of the Bays, the nutrient removal capacity of shellfish could significantly improve water quality while generating revenue for the local economy.
Using just one percent of the total acreage of the Inland Bays for aquaculture could produce huge environmental dividends. Every day, an amount equivalent to nine to 22 percent of the total volume of water in the Bays would be filtered by the shellfish and over 2,300 pounds of nutrients could be removed from the Bays based on a 3-year harvest cycle.
"Delaware's Inland Bays are one of our most treasured resources and their restoration demands innovative solutions," said Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control Secretary Collin O'Mara.
"Shellfish aquaculture is one such innovative approach, which will improve water quality and habitat of the Inland Bays, while at the same time create a new multi-million dollar industry of locally-grown food, bolstering oyster and clam production and producing new jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurs. It was a pleasure to work with the Center for the Inland Bays' Tiger team, Speaker Schwartzkopf and all of the legislators to pass legislation that will move the vision of a thriving shellfish aquaculture industry one step closer to reality in Delaware."
Members of CIB's Tiger team also included representatives Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), Department of Agriculture, University of Delaware Sea Grant, Sussex County Economic Development, recreation interests, commercial clammers, shellfish aquaculture interests, the Delaware Shellfish Advisory Council, and the University of Maryland Extension Service.
"The Center is very pleased to have coordinated the work of the committee that laid the scientific and educational groundwork for this bill," said CIB Executive Director Chris Bason. "Convening stakeholders to work together is central to our mission. I am grateful for all of the community participation and I think the bill truly reflects the hard work and careful deliberations of everyone on the team."