HOOPERS ISLAND, Md.- Oyster aquaculture in the Chesapeake Bay has been a growing industry for the past five years. Some are even calling it the future of the oyster industry. The Army Corps of Engineers is now proposing some changes to the industry that will help it grow.
The changes would streamline the process for people to apply for new aquaculture permits, and also remove restrictions on the size of the operation. While those in the industry say this is a great move, some watermen say they believe it will destroy their way of life.
Another day, another oyster cleaning at the Hoopers Island Oyster Aquaculture Company. Johnny Shockley, co-owner of the company, says the changes would greatly benefit people just getting into the industry.
"This is merely doing the same thing that Virginia is already doing, to make it more attractive to investment in the industry," Shockley said.
If you were applying for a permit and you wanted a rapid response that would take about eight months and you could only put down about five acres of cages. These proposals make it so that if you wanted a rapid response it would take 60 days, and you could take however much acreage you can handle.
But watermen have concerns.
"If you take away the limits on how much of this can be done, it opens up the door for large companies to come in here and gobble up large sections of our bottom. If that happens, go enjoy your oysters from the Coca Cola oyster company or the Ford Motor oyster company," said Dorchester County Seafood Harvesters Association President Scott Todd.
But Shockley points out you can't bite off more than you can chew.
"They shouldn't be concerned about that because there's already an element in place with the Department of Natural Resources that you have to actively be working that bottom that you've leased out."
In other words, if you don't use it, you lose it.
Watermen are also concerned about that significantly shorter permit period. The current time allows for watermen to file protests, and studies to be completed before granting a permit.
These changes are open to public comment with the Army Corps through May 30. The public notice is available at http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Missions/Regulatory/PublicNotices.aspx. The deadline to comment is May 31, 2016. Comments will be accepted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by mail:
Attn: Woody Francis, Regulatory Branch
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District
10 South Howard St.
Baltimore, MD 21201