Senator Bill Cook
(R-District 1) and Senator Norman W. Sanderson (R-District 2)
recently filed Senate
Joint Resolution 205, which encourages the Wilmington District of
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow shellfish cultivation and
aquaculture activities in North Carolina waters containing submerged
aquatic vegetation (SAV).
“The Corps of Engineers overprotects
North Carolina’s submerged aquatic vegetation,” reads a mid-March
press release from the office of Senator Bill Cook “This policy is
more stringent than policies used in other coastal states, including
the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“Shellfish lease applications in
North Carolina have been routinely denied by the Division of Marine
Fisheries due to the presence of any submerged aquatic vegetation.
Virginia falls under the Norfolk District of the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers and in that state, after the individual lease holder has a
pre-construction notification, their lease can have a certain amount
of submerged aquatic vegetation under certain conditions.”
As of September 2015, there were 292
shellfish leases in North Carolina, covering 1,931 acres. Out of 292
total leases, 256 are bottom leases covering 1,820 acres, and 36 have
water column leases covering 111 acres. In comparison, Virginia has
5,400 leases covering 122,000 acres, and this expanding program is
credited to the state’s rapid increase in oyster landings.
"Growing shellfish is good for our
coastal economy and environment, and the proposed changes will help
more people go into that business," said Todd Miller, Executive
Director of the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
The release also reported that in 2015
and 2016, responding to feedback from various organizations and those
who work in the industry, the N.C. General Assembly enacted several
regulatory provisions as well as appropriations to enhance the
state’s ability to plant cultch, to fund sanctuary development and
to expand North Carolina’s oyster industry:
- Allowing growers to mark the
perimeter of their leases with GPS devices and provide information
that conforms to standards prescribed by the secretary concerning
- Extending lease contracts from
five to ten years before a renewal application is necessary.
- Authorize bottom lease-holders to
also place gear up to 18 inches off bottom without requiring a water
- Permit shellfish lease holders,
who engage in mechanical harvest operations, to employ people
without a commercial fishing license.
- Requested a study to explore
opening shellfish cultivation and leasing opportunities in currently
prohibited areas of Core Sound.
- Section 11 of the 2015 Farm Act
(S.L. 2015-263) allows the Marine Fisheries Commission to issue
shellfish cultivation leases in areas containing SAV to the extent
allowed by federal law.
- Authorize nonprofits whose primary
mission is the conservation of natural resources, to apply for and
secure Division of Marine Fisheries scientific or educational
activity permits that were previously only granted to scientific and
- Established a stakeholder working
group to study and advance efforts to ecologically restore the
resource and achieve economic stability of the shellfish aquaculture
- Appropriated $300,000 of
additional funds to bolster the division’s cultch planting
- Increased appropriations by
$1,030,000 to support a network of oyster sanctuaries.
- Revised net appropriation for
oyster larvae (spat) in FY 2016-17 to $1,200,000.
- Appropriated $149,000 for two
positions in the Division of Marine Fisheries to promote shellfish
production and oyster shell recycling.
“North Carolina’s estuaries are
well known for being some of the most productive in the world. We
have the second largest estuary system in the United States and the
largest contained in one state. Amending this federal rule has
tremendous potential to create new jobs with the shellfish and
aquaculture industry,” said Cook and Sanderson on the resolution.
“With our acres of pristine waters and a large and growing interest
in cultivated oysters, the potential for the industry in the state is
huge. Our goal is for North Carolina to become the ‘Napa Valley’
of oysters. A single adult oyster can filter and clean up to 50
gallons of water a day – thus our waters will be cleaner and our
economy will grow.”
The public can read the bill and follow
its progress online at