Regarding Tim Wheeler's recent article on oyster farming ("State's oyster farmers snagged in red tape," June 20), I would like to offer my insights on this subject as a member of the Maryland oyster aquaculture industry. As Mr. Wheeler sought to convey, while nearly everyone agrees that oyster aquaculture represents a beneficial use of the water and should be encouraged, it seems that government agencies responsible for oversight of Maryland waters are struggling to effectively implement a cohesive policy to this end. I believe this is largely the result of lingering inefficiencies within government processes through which aquaculture applications are reviewed.
First, we have redundant processes regarding permitting for shellfish aquaculture, one occurring at the state level, and the second at the federal level. These two processes duplicate the review of identical materials, publish separate public notices, and ultimately issue two sets of largely redundant permits — one state and one federal. Maryland has appealed to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to allow the state to act as the sole arbitrator (as is done in Virginia), but the Corps has refused to relinquish authority. Between the state and federal review processes, as many as eight agencies may be included. It's no wonder applications often languish in this environment.
Additionally, it seems that regulators have become preoccupied by defining a process that accommodates every aquaculture application that comes down the pike. While this approach is sometimes necessary, it would behoove all parties to develop an expedited process for applications that meet specific requirements for best practices. As an example, a technique known as "spat-on-shell" is used to repopulate oysters in a completely natural fashion. This process is used by the federal government and state to restore oysters to public waters, as well as by aquaculture operator. However, the oyster farmer must undergo an exhaustive review process prior to planting his spat-on-shell, a practice that everyone agrees is beneficial as well as practiced by the government itself. Why are eight government agencies reviewing applications proposing a practice everyone agrees is beneficial and to be encouraged?
A much wiser process would create standards for accepted best practices and allow conforming applications to proceed in an expedited fashion. Let's have government agencies direct their energies into establishing standards for "the right way" to practice shellfish aquaculture and create "passing lanes" for applications that conform to these standards.
Jon Farrington, St. Leonard
The writer is proprietor of Johnny Oyster Seed Company and King Solomon Aquafarms.