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Massachusetts Aquaculture White Paper - Summary/Recommandations
1. Several state and federal agencies have direct roles in regulating inland aquaculture. Because each agency has different authorities and mandates, the development of a "one stop shop" for an aquaculture permit will be difficult. However, as a first step, developing a "user friendly", easy to read brochure on what agencies need to be contacted and who specifically to contact along with telephone numbers, would help substantially with the entire permitting process.
2. Establish an aquaculture extension position. This should be filled by an individual that possesses strong biological as well as technical capabilities in the field of aquaculture.
3. Private aquaculture needs to assist in funding the registration of critical drugs needed in fish culture. It is in the industry's own best self-interest to work directly with the states and federal government in accomplishing this huge task.
The following conclusions incorporate both issues relating to the aquaculture industry as a whole and to specific types of aquaculture practiced or proposed for Massachusetts. The conclusions summarized here can be characterized as problems which warrant further attention and action.
Protection of coastal water quality is essential to a sustainable wild and aquaculturally derived seafood industry. Shellfish beds closed due to point or non-point pollution sources represent an underutilized resource and lost revenue for coastal Massachusetts.
The state must move forward to remediate and reopen closed wild shellfish beds while at the same time, promoting marine aquaculture for non-productive intertidal and subtidal areas. Marine aquaculture development should not be promoted at the expense of our wild fishery.
The siting of wastewater treatment plant outfalls historically was done without consideration of adjacent shellfish beds. As a result, shellfish beds located adjacent to outfalls are often restricted or closed due to excessive fecal coliform counts.
Fecal coliform may not be the best indicator for pathogens and viruses but is uniformly used as the indicator species for shellfish safety.
The full extent of environmental impacts from aquaculture are uncertain. While it appears from limited studies and experience that aquaculture, if properly sited, does not cause noticeable degradation, the public often has the belief that aquaculture is a polluting industry.
Despite the numerous permits required to undertake aquaculture, environmental review of aquaculture proposals is fragmented. If MEPA thresholds are not met and a Chapter 91 license not required (which is generally the case), the only opportunity for state level environmental review is at DMF which has limited staff resources dedicated to environmental review of such proposals. The other state environmental agencies would have a back-door role in reviewing Section 404/10 permits.
There are concerns that the use of Off-Road Vehicles (ORV's) utilized by shellfish culturists to access the intertidal area may be detrimental to wetlands and oftentimes, endangered species such as piping plovers.
Financial and staff resources necessary for environmental review, marine monitoring, technical assistance, administration, and enforcement of aquaculture leases are not adequate at the state or municipal levels of government. Funding for aquaculture, however, does exist under NMFS' Fishing Industry Grants (FIG) program and the Saltonstall-Kennedy (SK) program.
Bivalve mollusk culture has historically been and is presently, the dominant form of aquaculture in the state. No other type of marine aquaculture is currently under commercial cultivation.
The lack of an accurate reporting mechanism for marine aquaculture production has resulted in unreliable economic information on this small, but growing industry.
Aquaculturists are oftentimes not viewed as business people but rather "hobbyists" due to inconsistent reporting of profit and poor record-keeping. This perception that aquaculture is a hobby and not a viable business has led to difficulties in obtaining technical assistance, bank loans, small business assistance, etc.
Press coverage of shellfish disease has led to widespread consumer concern or fear over the safety of shellfish. Overcoming this largely erroneous fear has become a marketing hurdle for the aquaculture industry.
There is no state agency which is explicitly responsible for promoting aquaculture. This stems largely from aquaculture having aspects relating to both agriculture and fisheries. Aquacultural practices do not easily fit within one existing agency mandate. There is presently minimal state involvement in aquaculture marketing, small business development and financing.
Privatization of traditionally government functions (i.e., hatcheries, marine monitoring, depuration) could be considered as a means to minimize government costs and encourage private investment in aquaculture.
The majority of aquaculture research and development is done by the private sector or the academic community in Massachusetts. The role of state and federal research and development is extremely limited. Research and development needs relating to production technology, disease control, quality control, environmental impacts, and species specific information are holding back the economic potential of aquaculture in Massachusetts.
Opportunities for aquaculture training and education is extremely limited in the state. Most private aquaculturists are reliant on limited technical assistance from Sea Grant, U-Mass Extension, and other aquaculturists. There are no degree granting institutions with aquaculture programs in the state.
Shellfish culture, fish farms and aquaculture in general, are poorly understood industries in coastal towns. This misunderstanding has sometimes led to distrust and conflict over private and public tideland and submerged land use.
The aquaculture industry in Massachusetts operates using a mix of private tidelands, public tidelands, state-owned submerged lands (from mean low water to three miles seaward) and probably sometime soon, federally owned submerged land in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). Multiple use conflicts of these lands are numerous. Wild fisheries, navigation, recreation, aesthetics and environmental protection are some of the competing uses of this land.
The regulatory requirements for aquaculture are complex and somewhat redundant. It is often unclear to proponents which permits and approvals are necessary from what authorities for different types of aquaculture located in different jurisdictions.
For the purposes of regulation, aquaculture does not fit precisely into any existing state agency. Instead, it has been fragmented between the Department of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Environmental Law Enforcement and the Department of Environmental Protection. At times, aquaculture is considered an industrial venture, while at other times it is considered fishing or agriculture. As a result, aquaculture is currently faced with regulatory constraints from several directions, but without benefitting from a direct association with any of the administrative agencies.
Should the New England Fisheries Management Council exercise its jurisdiction over aquaculture projects in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the state's role in reviewing such proposals is limited to Consistency review through CZM. CZM has no enforceable policies directly relating to aquaculture.
There are concerns that the use of Off-Road Vehicles (ORV's) utilized by some shellfish culturists to access the intertidal area may be detrimental to wetlands and oftentimes, endangered species such as piping plovers. Generally, there use is not standard procedure throughout the industry.
Financial and staff resources necessary for environmental review, marine monitoring, technical assistance, administration, and enforcement of aquaculture leases is not adequate at the state or municipal levels of government.
The Chapter 91 program does not currently consider shellfish trays to be "structures" and therefore they do not require any license or permit. Additionally, floating pens are handled like moorings and are generally approved by local harbormasters under Section 10A. To date, DEP has not required a license for any intertidal or subtidal aquaculture facility because most operate with mooring systems rather than with fixed structures. Therefore, aquaculturists are permitted to use year to year Chapter 91 permits obtained by local harbormasters to use public lands at no cost. Some large aquaculture operations may choose to obtain a long term license for financing or to reserve the rights for a longer period of time because the annual 10A permits may not offer long term security that is usually needed for these projects.
Aquaculture leases issued by municipalities are limited to ten year periods with no guarantee of renewal.
Aquaculturists perceive regulating agencies, both state and federal, as having an adversarial approach to aquaculture review rather than being cooperative or encouraging. Aquaculturists see the need for a gubernatorial policy which supports aquaculture in the state.
There may be a need for the regulatory structure to differentiate between commercial aquaculture and resource preservation, enhancement of wild fisheries, and experimental endeavors.
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Published: September 1995