Delaware shellfish enthusiasts are a step closer to raising oysters and clams as lottery applications are now available for shellfish farming leases in the Inland Bays.
In early May, Delaware’s Division of Fish and Wildlife will hold a public lottery for 343 acres available for shellfish farming in the Inland Bays. Chris Bason, the director for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays said the fact that the program is closer to becoming a reality is great news for Sussex County.
“It’s a brand new industry for Delaware that really hits the sweet spot where the farms are cleaning up the water while they’re providing jobs and putting local seafoods on people's table,” Bason said.
Oysters are natural filter feeders. Just one acre of a farm can produce 750,000 oysters and those oysters can remove over 700 pounds of nutrient pollution from the bays each year, Bason said.
Legislation to create a state shellfish aquaculture program was signed in 2013, but shellfish enthusiasts have waited years for the Army Corps of Engineers to review possible farming areas and issue a permit to the First State.
The state used to allow leases in the mid-1900s, but a disease called multi-nucleated sphere devastated oyster populations in the Delaware Bay, the Inland Bays and Chesapeake Bay making the leases not workable, halting the program.
Now, John Ewart, an aquaculture and fisheries specialist with the Delaware Sea Grant said “it’s a relief” Delaware is finally revamping it.
“The fact that people could go to restaurant in Rehoboth or Dewey Beach or anywhere along the coast and be able to buy an oyster at the oyster bar - you go there now and they’re from everywhere else except Delaware,” Ewart said. “I think that the fact that you could buy an oyster produced right in your local waters is a positive sign that the quality of the environment is such that you can produce a good food product there.”
But one group is still waiting for the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control to address their concerns.
The Coalition for Little Assawoman Bay’s founder Diane Maddex said the group is concerned about excessive pole markings in the water that define the acreage boundaries. Maddex said those poles are unnecessary clams are farmed under the water rather than on the surface like oysters, and Delawareans will be restricted to farming hard clams only in the Little Assawoman Bay.
“Now if you only have clams in our bay, they’re hidden and they don’t really obstruct people like a kayak the way oyster cages would,” Maddex said.
But Maddex said the coalition is satisfied that DNREC reduced the number of available acres in the bay. Originally, the state allowed 118 acres for shellfish farming, but reduced the number by 75 percent down to 43 acres to satisfy nearby homeowner complaints. Maddex said the original amount of plots exceeding 100, would have interfered with recreation in the Little Assawoman Bay.
A lottery for shellfish farming leases will be May 2. Lease applications can be found here and are due by 4 p.m. Wednesday, April 26.
Delaware Public Media reached out to DNREC for more information on the lottery process, but did not hear from them by the time of publication.