The Virginia Marine Resources Commission (VMRC) will set aside more than 1,000 acres of state-owned water bottom to help expand clam and oyster farming, a practice that benefits both the Chesapeake Bay’s health and the state’s economy.
VMRC is expected in January to approve the creation of 15 new “aquaculture opportunity zones”: hard-bottom areas located in clean, shallow waters that serve as nursery areas for fish and crabs. About half of the total acreage is located around Tangier Island, while the rest is located in the Rappahannock River and the tributaries of Mobjack Bay.
“These are excellent locations for the farming of oysters and clams in on-bottom cages,” said Virginia Natural Resources Secretary Doug Domenech. “Shellfish have an amazing ability to purge the water, which will help clean the Bay, and the economic benefits from an expanded aquaculture industry are potentially quite substantial. This is a win-win.”
Aquaculture is a booming, multi-million dollar industry in Virginia. Oyster gardening under private piers and along the shoreline of privately owned waterfront property is becoming increasingly popular.
VMRC will waive the normal costs to lease water bottoms for private oyster growing in the new aquaculture opportunity zones. There will also be a streamlined permitting process and a simple application. The zones will be divided up into a maximum of 5-acre blocks and assigned on a first-come, first-served basis to any Virginia resident.
“We want people to take advantage of this exciting opportunity, especially commercial oystermen,” said VMRC Fisheries Chief Jack Travelstead. “Shellfish aquaculture is more dependable than going out and catching oysters, and reduces pressure on our wild stocks that have been suffering under the pressure of two oyster diseases.”
Visit VMRC’s website to learn more about the new aquaculture opportunity zones.