To: U. S. Army Corps of Engineers

Attn:  CECW-OR/MVD (David B. Olson)

441 G. Street NW

Washington DC 20314-1000

 

From: East Coast Shellfish Growers Association

1623 Whitesville Rd.

Toms River, NJ 08755

 

RE:  Docket # COE-2006-0005 and/or ZRIN 0710-ZAO2, Nationwide Permit D for Shellfish Aquaculture.

 

Dear Mr. Olson,

 

We are writing to comment on the proposed Nationwide Permit D (NWP D) for shellfish aquaculture. We agree with the purpose of the proposed Nationwide Permits to simplify the permitting process and to protect the environment, but believe that NWP D can be improved in a number of areas.

 

The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association (ECSGA) represents shellfish aquaculture companies from Maine to Florida. According to the 2005 U.S. Department of Agriculture Census of Aquaculture and individual state landings statistics, there are 595 shellfish farms operating along the Atlantic Coast with over $67 million per year in farm gate sales. Our estimate is that these farms provide over 3,000 farm level jobs. These farms grow oysters and hard clams primarily, but blue mussels, soft clams and bay scallops are also products from this industry.

 

It is our understanding that, for jurisdictions in which NWP D will be in effect, existing shellfish operations that occupy less than 25 acres, contain fewer than 10 acres of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), do not utilize dredges in SAV areas and do not change methodologies or species will be automatically covered. We further understand that Corps Districts may condition NWP D to meet regional needs. And finally, it is our understanding that existing shellfish operations that exceed the 25 acre size, or have more than 10 acres of SAV, or plan to dredge in SAV areas or plan to introduce a new culture species or modify culture methods would have to submit a Preconstruction Notification (PCN) and obtain an individual permit in order to continue operations.

 

Most important in any discussion of shellfish aquaculture is the recognition that shellfish benefit the environment, and that the systems and gear that the shellfish industry uses to grow these shellfish can also provide ecosystem services. Your Federal Register notice points out some of these benefits and we support this conclusion. We also applaud the Corps for placing some emphasis in the Register notice on both the National Aquaculture Act and the Department of Commerce Aquaculture Policy that support aquaculture development in the U.S. However, we take strong exception to the language in the draft decision document that accompanied NWP D that states on page 18 that "Commercial shellfish aquaculture activities may have adverse effects on water quality" and goes on to say that these activities can increase the levels of nutrients and other pollutants. The shellfish that we grow remove nutrients, and do not produce pollutants.

 

At the end of our comments we have attached a partial bibliography of from the scientific literature which speaks to the positive benefits of shellfish cultivation. Specifically, shellfish aquaculture provides substantial ecosystem services and if the goal is to improve overall water quality and ecosystem health in the United States, we should be promoting the expansion of shellfish aquaculture instead of creating new hurdles for our industry. In most cases the ecosystem services provided by shellfish farms are equal to or exceed the services rendered by eelgrass (Rheault 2006, Shumway et al. 2005). Most types of shellfish aquaculture provide excellent habitat and attract a diverse population of juvenile fish, crustaceans, fouling organisms and forage species (Coen et al. 1999, Ferraro and Cole 2001, Obeirn et al. 2004, Tallman and Forrester in press). Fish abundance in and around shellfish farms has been measured to be far greater than in eelgrass (DeAlteris et al. 2004). Shellfish actively filter the water, improving clarity and quality (Rice 2001) and when the animals are harvested nitrogen and phosphate are removed from the ecosystem (Newell 2004, Newell et al. 2004). In fact, it is well recognized that large shellfish populations improve the conditions necessary for eelgrass survival (Orth et al. 1994, Ruckleshaus 1996, Peterson and Heck 1999, Newell and Koch 2004, Wisehart et al. 2006), and the best way to establish such large populations sustainably is through private commercial aquaculture (Shumway et al. 2003).

 

You propose in NWP D to cover existing shellfish aquaculture operations that occupy fewer than 25 acres and that do not have more than 10 acres of SAV. We support automatic coverage of all existing shellfish aquaculture operations under the new Nationwide, regardless of size. Existing shellfish aquaculture operations have already been permitted under NWP 4 and comply with other regional permits, and state and local regulations. It would be extremely burdensome to have to go through a PCN/individual permit process. The cost might be more than some companies can bear, and this additional permit requirement might lead to delays in seeding or harvest that could substantially effect production. Similarly, we oppose the need for a PCN if a grower decides to begin shellfish operations on a part of his lease that has been fallow for a period of time, or if he decides to switch species. Shellfish leases are granted by state or local authorities with full consideration of the extent of the lease, and with knowledge of the species that are allowed for cultivation. An additional Corps process in this case is unnecessary and would create a substantial administrative burden on both the grower and on the Corps.

 

The proposed NWP D would authorize existing shellfish aquaculture operations only. Given the positive benefits of shellfish aquaculture, and the extensive permitting process already in place at the state and local level, we recommend that small new shellfish farms be automatically covered by NWP D as well, to avoid having to submit a PCN and be subject to an undefined and unpredictable review process. The 25 acre threshold could be used to define a "small" farm, but even for larger new shellfish farms the requirement to obtain an individual permit should be restricted to proposed activities that utilize culture methods or high biomass densities that pose the greatest risk of producing adverse impacts.

 

We are also concerned about the treatment of all SAV equally. Both the shellfish industry and environmental groups recognize the value of eelgrass, and it has become synonymous with a healthy environment in habitats suitable for its growth. The term SAV theoretically encompasses a much larger group of seaweeds, such as Ulva, that do not provide the same ecological services as eelgrass and many of which are regarded as ecological nuisance species. The relative value of various SAV species needs to be considered in placing limits on shellfish farming activities. Additionally and importantly, valuable SAV such as eelgrass is dependent on light penetration and on substrate, both of which are improved by shellfish cultivation. The positive benefits of shellfish on SAV need to be considered and balanced with restrictions on dredging in SAV or operating farms in areas with SAV.

 

The proposed NWP D gives broad latitude to the Corps District Engineer to decide whether a shellfish farm activity affects or does not affect species listed under the Endangered Species Act, or essential fish habitat covered under provisions of the Magnuson Stevens Act. Most important in this determination is the consultation between the Corps and NOAA and the Fish and Wildlife Service. It is essential that these resource agencies recognize, as does the Corps, the value of shellfish aquaculture and the ecosystem services provided by this activity and not consider only potential adverse effects. Similarly, if individual Corps Districts choose to place regional conditions on NWP D, we would hope that they would result in a less restrictive permitting process.

 

We assume that shellfish aquaculture operations permitted under NWP D, regardless of size, will not have to be re-permitted under this Nationwide or its successor when it is renewed in five years. We encourage you to ensure that this occurs.

 

The intention of the Corps to conduct reviews of commercial shellfish activities is problematical. Although a scientific environmental review of these activities would undoubtedly support the widely-held view that shellfish aquaculture is positive for the environment, such a review would be expensive and time consuming and is unwarranted in the face of all of the information available. More importantly, you indicate that this review process would be used to develop regional conditions to mitigate environmental impacts "or other aspects of the public interest". A broad stakeholder review process would expose an ongoing, sustainable industry to non-scientific criticism and avaricious self-interests. We expect that such a public review would provide a forum for waterfront residents, many of them new to the coast, to oppose shellfish aquaculture with nothing more than a not-in-my-backyard motive. Such opposition, ignoring the traditional water-dependent uses of our coasts and without understanding the contribution of shellfish to the ecosystem could have serious consequences for our industry, and should not be facilitated by your proposed review process.

 

We see no reason to limit the quantity of dredged or fill materials used in the course of shellfish farming. The use of shell or other suitable substrate is a well-established practice in shellfish culture, especially for oysters, and the growers use only those quantities that are effective in their operations. In fact, the high costs of such materials results in minimum use. Similarly, there should be no restrictions on the planting or seeding of authorized shellfish species. Planting shellfish seed for on-growth or moving shellfish seed or adults from one area to another are an integral part of shellfish cultivation and restricting such activities was clearly not the intent of the Clean Water Act.

 

The ECSGA appreciates this opportunity to comment on the proposed Nationwide permits and remains commited to working with the Corps on this and other issues in the future. Thank you for your consideration.

 

The ECSGA appreciates this opportunity to comment on the proposed Nationwide permits and remains commited to working with the Corps on this and other issues in the

 

Sincerely yours,

Edwin W. Rhodes

Executive Director

 

Shellfish Aquaculture Ecosystem Services, a Partial Bibliography

Coen, L.D., Luckenbach, M.W., Breitburg, D.L. 1999. The role of oyster reefs as essential fish habitat: a review of current knowledge and some new perspectives. In: Benaka, L.R. (Ed.), Fish Habitat: Essential Fish Habitat and Rehabilitation. Amer. Fish. Soc., Symp. 22(438–454).

Gerritsen, J., Holland, A.F., Irvine, D.E., 1994. Suspension-feeding bivalves and the fate of primary production: an estuarine model applied to Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries 17 (2), 403–416.

DeAlteris, J.T.; Kilpatrick, B.D.; Rheault, R.B. (2004) A comparative evaluation of the habitat value of shellfish aquaculture gear, submerged aquatic vegetation and a non-vegetated seabed. J. Shellfish Res. (23:3) 867–874.

Kaspar, H.F., P.A. Gillespie, I.C. Boyer, and A.L. MacKenzie. 1985. Effects of mussel aquaculture on the nitrogen cycle and benthic communities in Kenepuru Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand. Marine Biology 85: 127-136.

Kaiser, M. J., I. Laing, S. D. Utting, and G. M. Burnelli. 1998. Environmental impacts of bivalve mariculture. Journal of Shellfish Research 17:59-66.

Newell, R.I.E., 2004. Ecosystem influences of natural and cultivated populations of suspension-feeding bivalve molluscs: a review. J. Shellfish Res. 23 (1), 51–61.

Newell, R.I.E., Fisher, T.R., Holyoke, R.R., Cornwell, J.C., 2004. Influence of eastern oysters on nitrogen and phosphorus regeneration in Chesapeake Bay, USA. P. In: Dame, R., Olenin, S. (Eds.), The Comparative Roles of Suspension Feeders in Ecosystems. NATO Science Series IV — Earth and Environmental Sciences. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, The Netherlands.

Nugues, M. M., M. J. Kaiser, B. E. Spencer, and D. B. Edwards. 1996. Benthic community changes associated with intertidal oyster cultivation. Aquaculture Research 27:913-924.

O’Beirn, F. X., P. G. Ross & M. W. Luckenbach. 2001. A review of organisms associated with oysters cultured in floating systems. Aquaculture 2001: book of abstracts, World Aquaculture Society. 484 pp.

O’Beirn, F. X., P. G. Ross, and M. W. Luckenbach. 2004. Organisms associated with oysters cultured in floating systems in Virginia, USA. Journal of Shellfish Research 23:825-829.

Peterson, C.H., Grabowski, J.H., Powers, S.P., 2003. Estimated enhancement of fish production resulting from restoring oyster reef habitat: quantitative valuation. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 264, 249–264

Rodney, W.S. and Paynter, K.T. (2006) Comparisons of macrofaunal assemblages on restored and non-restored oyster reefs in mesohaline regions of Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. J. Exp. Mar. Biol. Ecol. 335 (2006) 39–51. http://www.life.umd.edu/biology/paynterlab/labpub/R_P2006.pdf

Rheault, R.B. 2006. Ecological Services Rendered by Cultured Eastern Oysters. Abstract, Nat. Shellfish Assoc. Monterey, Ca. March, 2006.

Rice, M.A. In: Tlusty, M.F., D.A. Bengston, H.O. Halvorson, S.D. Oktay, J.B. Pearce and R.B. Rheault, JR. (Eds) 2001. Environmental impacts of shellfish aquaculture: filter feeding to control eutrophication. pp. 76-86 In: Marine Aquaculture and the Marine Environment. January 2001, U. Mass. Boston. Cape Cod Press, Falmouth, MA.

Shumway, S.E.; Davis, C.; Downey, R.; Karney, R.; Kraeuter, J.; Parsons, J.; Rheault, R.; Wikfors, G. (2003) Shellfish aquaculture — In praise of sustainable economies and environments. World Aquaculture (34:4)15-17

Tallman, J.C. and Forrester, G.E. (2007) Oyster grow-out cages function as artificial reefs for temperate fishes. Trans. Amer Fish. Soc. (in Press)

Wisehart, L.M.; Hacker, S.D.; Dumbauld, B.R.; Ruesink, J.L. (2006) Oyster aquaculture may positively affect eelgrass (Zostera marina L.) through enhanced seed production and germination. Abstract. Nat Shellfish Assoc. Monterey, Ca.

Zimmerman, R., Minello, T., Baumer, T., Castiglione, M., 1989. Oyster reef as habitat for estuarine macrofauna. NOAA Technical Memorandum NMFS-SEFC-249. NOAA/NMFS Southeast FisheriesScience Center, Galveston Texas.