Oyster farming in Indian River Bay questioned

Oyster farming in Indian River Bay questioned

By Molly Murray
News Journal

Beach Cove residents near Bethany Beach have stepped up their opposition to state plans to allow shellfish aquaculture in the small area of Indian River Bay. On Saturday, they will host a public meeting from 10 to 11:30 a.m. at the VFW Mason Dixon Post near Ocean View.

Among their concerns: that some 50-acres of the cove along the southwest, northeast and southeast corners of the cove, along with the zones around marinas and man-made lagoons are already off limits for shellfish harvest under state sanitation regulations. That would leave the center of the cove open to aquaculture but that area includes the navigation channel area boat owners use to reach the open waters of the bay and Indian River Inlet and the sheltered recreation area used by area residents.

The area "is unsuitable for shellfish aquaculture," said Edward Launay, an environmental consultant hired by the legal team that represents eight homeowner associations. The groups have joined forces and have been meeting with state environmental officials in an effort to resolve the matter. But so far, there has been no resolution.

In the meantime, the state is completing work on a response to the Army Corps of Engineers. The federal permitting agency raised similar questions about the restricted shellfish areas and navigation issues at Beach Cove when they reviewed a state request for permits.

"We have recently completed extensive water depth and horizontal navigation width field measurements requested by the Corps in areas located between proposed Shellfish Aquaculture Development Areas [SADA] and the adjoining shorelines," wrote Division of Fish & Wildlife Director David Saveikis, in an email response to The News Journal. "We also, as requested by the Corps, are verifying select shellfish harvest closure areas. We are currently analyzing the data and findings, and plan to respond to the Corps within the next two weeks."

View of Beach Cove, which is the part of Indian River Bay that backs up to the west side of Coastal Highway south of the inlet bridge. (Photo: JASON MINTO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

In earlier interviews, state officials said they planned to allow the permit process to play out rather than make changes midway through the federal review.

"I'm all for aquaculture in the inland bays in places that make sense," said James Bond, an area property owner and one of the leaders in the effort to have Beach Cove stricken as a potential shellfish aquaculture zone.

Bond said the cove is shallow, has a muddy bottom and because of heavy development, the marinas and the banned harvest shellfish zones is unsuitable for a commercial shellfish growing operation.

Other preselected areas within Indian River, Rehoboth and Little Assawoman bays are more suitable, he said.

Delaware is the only coastal state without a shellfish aquaculture industry, and the Center for the Inland Bays estimated it could have a $6 million to $28 million economic impact on the estuary.

Beach Cove is part of the Indian River Bay that backs up to the west side of Coastal Highway, south of the inlet bridge. (Photo: JASON MINTO/THE NEWS JOURNAL)

In nearby Virginia, commercial, farm-raised clams and oysters are big business. In 2014 sea farmers there sold 243 million farm-raised hard clams and almost 40 million cultured oysters.

Delaware's shellfish aquaculture regulations went into effect Aug. 11, 2014, after months of public workshops, meetings and a public hearing. State officials had a year to develop the regulations to stay within that legislative mandate.

They are awaiting Army Corps approval of a nationwide permit that covers aquaculture for the preselected areas in the inland bays. The idea is that individual growers would be covered under the state permit and would not have to get individual, federal permits.

State officials say they followed the instructions they received through the legislation: maintain safe navigation corridors and establish parameters for a working shellfish aquaculture industry.

But Launay said the review of proposed shellfish growing areas – at least in Beach Cove – did not take into consideration the existing shellfish harvest closure areas, the intense development around the shoreline, the recreational use and limited navigational channels.

Reach Molly Murray at (302) 463-3334 or mmurray@delawareonline.com. Follow@MollyMurraytnj on Twitter.