WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (Both D-MD) today applauded approval of a streamlined permit authorizing new commercial, research and education oyster aquaculture permits by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Approval of the general permit is an important step forward for fishery jobs and new economic opportunities in Maryland’s coastal communities created by promoting oyster aquaculture as a sustainable alternative to wild harvesting of oysters on the Chesapeake Bay.
Earlier this year the Senators made personal appeals to the both the USACE and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to speed the stalled review and approval of the streamlined permit. NOAA provides environmental assessments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the approval of permits in Maryland.
“The action taken today is an important step in restoring oysters to a central role in the Bay economy,” said Senator Cardin, chairman of the Water and Wildlife Subcommittee of the Committee on Environment and Public Works. “Oyster aquaculture will provide a new generation of watermen a valuable fishery while also allowing wild oysters to return to their central role in the Chesapeake ecosystem.”
“I am relieved the aquaculture permit has finally been approved,” said Senator Mikulski, who is Chairwoman of the Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations Subcommittee that funds NOAA. “A lack of urgency in the permit process left the lives and livelihoods of Maryland’s watermen on hold over the last several months. This permit means jobs for Maryland’s watermen.”
“We are cutting the red tape, streamlining the permitting process and making it easier to do business in Maryland,” Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley said. “I want to thank Colonel Anderson and his team for helping us improve this process. Together, we can create jobs, grow our seafood industry and make a more sustainable future for the Chesapeake Bay and our native oyster.”
The General Permit for Maryland waters would be used in lieu of individual permits. General Permits are used when a number of similar conditions need to be met and the risk of environmental harm relatively low. If the applicant can satisfy the basic requirements, permitting is faster, more predictable and administratively easier to manage.
The Senators have also called upon the Corps to develop a “one-stop shop” system that is user-friendly and would allow oyster farmers to go the State to obtain all the permits they would need, including the General Permit from the Corps.
Virginia has been promoting aquaculture for more than a decade and most of the oyster harvest in Virginia now comes from these licensed operations. They are profitable and allow the state to provide stronger protections to natural oyster reefs, which are recovering.
A copy of the Army Corps of Engineers’ public notice and permit can be found online here: http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Wetlands%20Permits/public_notices.htm