East Coast Shellfish Growers Association Legislative Agenda, January 2005

Issue: ACOE – EPA - NOAA interaction on shellfish issues Shellfish aquaculture is environmentally friendly and sustainable. However, various Federal agencies have begun to interpret environmental regulations in ways that may severely restrict the methods used to grow and harvest shellfish. Particularly onerous are regional decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers ordering the removal of shellfish gear that is now deemed to be in essential fish habitat, according to NOAA Fisheries. Too often, estuaries that are added to the National Estuary Program list and whose management is funded by the USEPA through the Clean Water Act, are managed by user groups that do not recognize the ecological importance and benefit of shellfish aquaculture. Shellfish aquaculture is often viewed as a commercial activity that must be limited to an ever decreasing choice of cultivation areas. It would be wiser conservation to include commercial shellfish aquaculture as an ally and agent of ecological restoration is these estuaries. Equally damaging is an Environmental Protection Agency ruling that oysters planted on a shellfish farm constitute “fill” and require additional environmental consultations and permits. NOAA is promoting aquaculture on one hand, and interfering with its existence and future development on the other. Good science and interagency coordination is required. Action: Encourage NOAA to balance environmental concerns under the Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Essential Fish Habitat provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act with its desire to advance environmentally-sound shellfish aquaculture. Fund programs to study the environmental benefits of shellfish culture to water quality and ecosystem function.

Issue: Aquaculture funding for NOAA and USDA Federal funding for aquaculture is inadequate, and increased support makes good investment sense. NOAA funding for aquaculture has decreased substantially over the last 4 years, cutting into existing competitive grants programs, reducing funding for shellfish disease research. A recent action moved Saltonstall-Kennedy monies previously used to fund aquaculture to Alaskan salmon marketing. The USDA’s Regional Aquaculture Centers (RACs) have been level-funded for a decade. The Department of Commerce has a goal of increasing aquaculture production 5-fold by 2020, and the Northeast RAC plan is to double the value of northeastern aquaculture in 10 years. Neither of these goals can be met with current funding levels. U.S. aquaculture has an annual farm gate value of about $1 billion, while our trade deficit in fisheries products is more than $6 billion. An annual aquaculture investment of 1% of that deficit, or $60 million, would work to keep the trade deficit in check, provide an additional $4 billion of domestically produced high quality seafood and produce thousands of jobs in our rural and coastal communities, and help address the recommendations of the new Ocean Commission’s report. Action: Increase Federal support for aquaculture programs in Commerce/NOAA and USDA/CSREES.

Issue: Country of Origin Labeling The USDA’s definitions of “farm-raised” and “wild” as they pertain to cultured shellfish under the Country of Origin Labeling regulation is of concern to the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association (ECSGA) since the definition of “farm-raised” may inadvertently exclude certain shellfish farmers who may be using certain low-intensity farming techniques. Our members use a wide variety of culture methods ranging from intensive culture of hatchery-reared seed in mesh bags to extensive culture of wild caught seed-stock spread on the bottom. It is important that the definitions used in the final rule do not exclude any of our farmers. We recommend a definition of cultured shellfish that does not rely on feeding or containment or the specific farming methods that are used. For shellfish the important factors leading to the designation as “farm-raised” should rely on the ownership of the crop and the nature of the exclusive harvest rights which the grower has on the grounds from which the cultured shellfish are harvested. Action: Work to insure that the USDA “farm-raised” definition in the COOL legislation as applied to shellfish is based on the ownership of the crop and the harvest rights to the grounds from which the shellfish is harvested.

Issue: Opposition to EPA proposed sewage blending policy The EPA has proposed a sewage blending policy entitled “National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit Requirements for Municipal Treatment Discharge During Wet Weather Conditions.” If this policy is adopted, sewage treatment plant operators would be allowed to blend primary-treated effluent with secondary-treated effluent during wet weather conditions, clearly resulting in the discharge of water that exceeds current limits for pollutants, including fecal coliforms. This will compromise the quality of the marine waters used by shellfish growers, leading to additional closures of shellfish beds for harvest that will diminish the availability of shellfish to the nation and cause severe economic harm to our industry. Relaxing rules on blending, or allowing some treatment capacity to be held in reserve will provide municipalities a disincentive for upgrading or repairing waste water treatment plant operations. Water quality is the lifeblood of the shellfish industry; we oppose any changes that will erode water quality and support a more aggressive timeline to improve our coastal water quality. Action: Work to defeat the proposed changes to the sewage blending policy that will lead to increased discharges of pollutants. Work to improve coastal water quality by encouraging EPA to do so through rulemaking, or through Federal legislation.

Issue: Introduction of non-native shellfish species Virginia and Maryland are well on the way to the introduction of Crassostrea ariakensis into Chesapeake Bay. This Asian oyster has been shown in trials, using mostly non-reproductive animals, to survive and grow well in the Bay and there is support by the local oyster industry for its mass introduction. Oysters are transported live and it will be impossible to guarantee that individuals of this non-native species will not be released into waters outside of the Chesapeake and threaten the native oyster in those areas. Action: More extensive and transparent science to ensure that the introduction of C. ariakensis is essential for Chesapeake Bay and, if this introduction proceeds, that it not result in the establishment of non-native oysters to areas outside of the Chesapeake Region.

Issue: Marketing Shellfish aquaculture is growing slowly, partly because markets for some products appear limited. Most shellfish companies are small businesses, without the resources to fund marketing work internally. National and regional studies to identify new potential markets for traditional products, and research to develop and distribute new market forms would dramatically increase the potential for growth in the shellfish aquaculture industry. Action: Increased support for shellfish marketing research in appropriate agencies, including USDA’s Rural Business-Cooperative Service.

Issue: Crop insurance Land-based agriculture in the U.S. is covered against unusual losses due to pestilence, disease and weather. In 1999 the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, part of the Risk Management Agency (RMA) of the USDA initiated a pilot program to offer similar coverage to clam farmers in specific counties in Florida, South Carolina, Virginia and Florida. This pilot program has not been perfect in every aspect, and some abuses by farmers and by third party insurers have been reported. However, crop insurance for shellfish is not available at realistic rates from private insurers, and a government-backed program is required. Crop insurance for shellfish farmers will not only help in times of catastrophic loss, but will also make investment in this industry more attractive. Action: RMA should be encouraged to evaluate and extend their crop insurance program for clams to cover oysters, mussels and scallops, and to extend the geographic coverage to the entire Nation.

Representing the Needs of Aquaculture and the Environment http://www.ecsga.org