As shellfish industry grows, state officials draft rules on floating structures for leases

Shellfish growers work atop a floating structure in this example of the kind of structure the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission is considering permitting at shellfish aquaculture lease sites. (N.C. Division of Coastal Management graphic)

ATLANTIC BEACH — State officials are working on rules to permit floating structures for shellfish aquaculture operations, a fast-growing industry along the North Carolina coast.

The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission met for its regular business meeting Nov. 10 at the Doubletree by Hilton hotel in Atlantic Beach. During the meeting, the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, the agency which conducts studies and enforces rules the CRC creates, gave a report on the development of draft permitting rules.

DCM policy analyst and federal consistency coordiantor Daniel Govoni said in creating the rules, the division contacted the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which reported it doesn’t have any permits to use as models for the kind of floating structures proposed.

“The shellfish growers have expressed a need for these structures,” Mr. Govoni said.

Growers have told state officials they require floating structures on their leases to provide shading for shellfish products, as well as workspace for gear cleaning, pressure washing, grading and bagging shellfish, as well as product packaging for market.

Mr. Govoni said as of Nov. 10, the division has drafted rule standards that include protection for navigation channels, sanitation and natural resources.

“We felt we should allow these structures for the life of the lease,” he said, “but limit it to one structure per lease.”

Shellfish lease sites are an area state coastal management officials and state fisheries management officials cross paths. DCM Executive Director Braxton Davis said the N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries tends to be more flexible in its regulations, which focus on habitat and shellfish sanitation.

“We look at public trust (regulations),” Mr. Davis said. “The bottom line here is efficiency. We try to avoid duplicating (what the DMF already regulates).”

DCM public information officer Christy Simmon said in a Monday email to the News-Times staff thinks additional discussions are needed with the DMF about their respective roles in floating structure permitting.

The CRC expressed a desire to facilitate the growth of shellfish aquaculture, but with careful regulation. Member Larry Baldwin said he’s “all about simplicity” when it comes to regulations.

“We’re going to see this industry grow,” he noted.

CRC member and Atlantic Beach Mayor Trace Cooper said he thinks the DMF, which is the state agency which issues shellfish leases, doesn’t do enough to regulate them.

“This is an industry that’s growing quickly and we’re trying to regulate it as it goes,” Mr. Cooper said. “We’re going to create a lot of conflicts if we tie our regulations to the pace the industry wants to set.”

Mr. Baldwin agreed.  

“There has to be some kind of review process,” he said. “You don’t want to create more user conflicts.”

Mr. Davis said as the DCM continues to develop floating structure rules, it needs to look into the risk of permitted structures that aren’t used for the intended purpose of shellfish aquaculture.

In other news at the Nov. 10 meeting, the commission unanimously approved the 2021 update for the state’s coastal habitat protection plan, or CHPP. This update focuses on addressing declining water quality and its effects on coastal habitats.

Before the CHPP can be adopted, the CRC, N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission and the N.C. Environmental Management Commission must all grant approval. Both the MFC and the EMC are set to take action on the plan in November.   

The CHPP update creates a suite of goals and recommended actions, including:

  • Protection and restoration of submerged aquatic vegetation through water quality improvements.
  • Protection and restoration of wetlands through nature-based solutions.
  • Environmental rule compliance and enforcement to protect coastal habitats.
  • Wastewater infrastructure solutions for water quality improvement.
  • Coastal habitat mapping and monitoring to assess status and trends.

Mr. Baldwin said he’d criticized the proposed update previously, but thinks a lot has been accomplished to pursue the proposed goals.

“I’ve become a proponent of these objectives,” he said. “These will be ongoing goals, they’ll be focused on what the CHPP is supposed to achieve.”

CRC member Bob Emory echoed Mr. Baldwin’s comments.

“There are a lot of goals laid out,” he said, “but they’re all consistent with the objectives of the CHPP.”

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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