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State reducing amount of shellfish farming leases in Inland Bays

Katie Young
Delaware Center for the Inland Bays

Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) is limiting the amount of available acres for shellfish farming to appease property owners and farmers.

In response to concerns from residents near Little Assawoman Bay, DNREC is reducing shellfish farming leases from almost 450 acres to 343 acres throughout the state. The reduction also takes into account comments from Delawareans and small businesses that want to get into shellfish farming. Changes in the permitting process will limit shellfish farming in the bay to hard clams only, DNREC Secretary David Small said.

“Growing oysters — there’s more mechanical parts involved with that, it’s a more intensive industry model and could require the use of floating cages,” Small said. “Whereas to grow hard clams — hard clams are buried under the sand or sediment on the bottom.”

Since farming oysters can be noisy, Small said this is part of a compromise to make shellfish farming less intrusive for people who live near the shoreline.

But a group of homeowners near the Little Assawoman Bay at Fenwick Island are concerned about the long-term health of the bay. A press release from the Coalition for Little Assawoman Bay states they support the restriction of farming in the bay to hard clams only. But, they believe the marker poles in the bay used to indicate plots will obstruct boaters.

“Kayakers, paddleboarders, and novice sailors can’t be expected to maneuver safely around obstacles like these,” said Diane Maddex, one of the founders of the coalition.

"As an industry it also cleans the water." - Chris Bason, Director for the Center for the Inland Bays

The reduced leases also apply to Rehoboth and the Indian River Bays. In Rehoboth Bay, 209 acres have been approved by the state for shellfish development, while 91 acres have been approved in the Indian River Bay and 43 acres have been approved in the Little Assawoman Bay. Director of the Center for the Inland Bays Chris Bason said just four years ago, Delaware did not have a presence in the shellfish industry.

“It’s a very unique industry because it not only creates jobs, it not only provides healthy local seafood to local restaurants that are really clamoring to get these shellfish, but as an industry it also cleans the water,” Bason said.

That’s because shellfish can filter toxic nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from the bay. Bason said just one acre of a shellfish farming lease could remove over 700 pounds of excess nutrients from the bays each year.

Individual shellfish farmers will be limited to five acres each, but Small said DNREC may look into adding more acreage for shellfish farming in the future.

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