The entire June 10 issue of the Chesapeake Quarterly is dedicated to a discussion on oysters and its title page presents the question “A future for oyster farming?” One of its main articles, “Up from the Bottom: Oysters for the 21st Century” discusses oyster aquaculture:
Last year the Governor of Maryland put forward a new oyster aquaculture bill that removed many of the roadblocks that hampered oyster farming for more than 100 years. Influenced over the decades by politically savvy watermen who opposed private oyster farming, previous legislation set up restrictions on lease sizes and locations, and on non-resident and corporate ownership. Following up on last year’s aquaculture bill, in May the state of Maryland opened 600,000 acres for future private farm leases, which can be held by corporations and nonresidents. The state also converted 25 percent of the viable public fishing grounds into oyster sanctuaries and stepped up its campaign against poachers.
The new changes in the law set phones ringing this spring in a number of state agencies, including the Department of Agriculture, which helps aquaculture businesses with permitting and regulation. The kind of oyster farming that is beginning to emerge in Maryland could be a mix that includes both on-bottom and off-bottom aquaculture, according to [Don Webster, Maryland Sea Grant Regional Aquaculture Specialist and past chair of the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.] On-bottom farms would mostly produce oysters for shucking and off-bottom farms would turn out single oysters designed for the pricier half-shell trade. The mix of farmers could include newcomers like [Choptank Oyster Company manager Kevin] McClaren, established seafood businesses looking for new supplies, and watermen who want to try another way of working the water.
For wannabe farmers, the roadblocks are down, but plenty of potholes remain, including bureaucratic delays, permits, surveys, start-up costs, disease risks, and turnaround time. For watermen who would be farmers, the potholes can look like craters. After spending their work lives as solitary entrepreneurs, most watermen are not in a position to invest heavily in shell and seed and new gear, and then wait three years before harvesting.