St. Mary’s Enacts Commercial Dock Moratorium For Oyster Aquaculture

Bay Journal article (2018-12-12) reported that the St. Mary’s County Board of County Commissioners approved a 6-month moratorium on the use of commercial docks to work new oyster aquaculture leases that involve oysters in cages or floats. The 2-1 vote (with one Commissioner absent and another recused) occurred in response to concerns raised by waterfront land owners that the current aquaculture lease process overseen by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) deprived land owners of the ability to swim, boat, or hunt in the waters off their properties.

As previously reported by Conduit Street, the commissioners had initially proposed an 18 month moratorium and held an extended public comment period for the proposal.  The adoption of the moratorium was temporarily halted after DNR formed a workgroup to attempt to address the County’s concerns but was reinstated after the workgroup failed to recommend any changes to the existing lease process. The moratorium was shortened from 18 months to 6 months after newly elected Commissioner Eric Colvin expressed concern over the moratorium’s duration.

The article explained that DNR has approved 99 leases for aquaculture covering nearly 900 acres of water. About 25 percent of those leases involve the use of cages or floats that are subject to the moratorium. The article also that the commissioners received 353 public comments in favor of the moratorium and only 27 against.

While the commissioners who supported the moratorium explained their position, opponents, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and watermen, expressed criticism of the Commission’s action. From the article:

“We have to do something to force the hand of DNR,” [Board of County Commissioners President Randy] Guy said. The ordinance directs county staff to study how the growing number of aquaculture enterprises fits in with the county’s long-range development plan and to come up with potential changes to the zoning code that might tighten control over their siting. …

Commissioner Mike Hewitt noted the lopsided comment tally supporting the moratorium and took issue with critics who said waterfront homeowners’ complaints were another form of NIMBYism, or “not in my backyard.” …

“Right at the time when watermen need a real option, we’re about to make it harder for them,” said J.D. Blackwell, owner of 38North Oysters in St. Mary’s County. …

“This ordinance will likely have a chilling effect on the growing aquaculture industry in Maryland and denies the citizens of St. Mary’s County the water quality benefits that these sustainable businesses provide,” [Chesapeake Bay Foundation Executive Director Allison] Prost said.

Close Menu
%d bloggers like this: