U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Attn: CECW-OR/MVD (David B. Olson) 441 G.
Street NW Washington DC 20314-1000
RE: Docket # COE-2006-0005 and/or ZRIN 0710-ZAO2, Nationwide Permit D for Shellfish Aquaculture.
Dear Mr. Olson,
I am writing to comment on the proposed Nationwide Permit D (NWP D) for shellfish aquaculture. I agree with the purpose of the proposed NWPs to simplify the permitting process and to protect the environment, but believe that NWP D can be improved in a number of areas.
Something about your company. (Name, location, size, species, years of operation, number of employees, etc)
It is my understanding that for jurisdictions in which NWP D will be in effect that 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. I further understand that Corps Districts may condition NWP D to meet regional needs. And finally, it is my 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 notice points out some of these benefits and states that “we believe that there is generally a net overall increase in aquatic resource function in estuaries or bays where shellfish are produced”. Most types of shellfish aquaculture provide excellent habitat and attract a diverse population of juvenile fish, crustaceans, fouling organisms and forage species. Fish abundance in and around shellfish farms has been shown to be far greater than in eelgrass. Shellfish actively filter the water, improving clarity and quality and when the animals are harvested nitrogen and phosphate are removed from the ecosystem. The positive benefits of shellfish in the environment are widely accepted and have led to important shellfish restoration efforts, most significantly that in Chesapeake Bay. Ecosystem studies have shown that restoring shellfish populations to levels only a fraction of historical abundance can improve water quality and aid in the recovery of SAV.
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. I 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 submit a PCN and go through the process to obtain an individual permit. 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, I 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 pre-authorization of the species 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, I 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.
I am 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 effects or does not effect 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, I would hope that they would result in a less restrictive permitting process.
I 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. I 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 selfish self-interests. I 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.
I 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.
Thank you for your consideration.