East Coast Shellfish Growers Association
Legislative Agenda February 2007

The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association represents hundreds of small shellfish farmers from Maine to Florida. We estimate that annual revenues from 1300 east coast farms approach $80 million annually. Consumer demand is strong for our products that include oysters, clams, scallops and mussels, and many states continue to enjoy substantial growth in shellfish aquaculture. The economic impact of the shellfish industry in terms of jobs and secondary supporting industries is significant in many coastal communities. As the industry grows we need to plan to avoid conflicts with coastal development, degradation of water quality, losses due to predators, disease and invasive species, and improve our ability to take advantage of changing market trends. Adequate funding of the sustainable development of commercial shellfish farming will have the dual return of fostering economic growth and benefiting the environment.

Issue: ACOE - EPA - NOAA interaction on shellfish permitting issues

Shellfish aquaculture has been shown to be both environmentally friendly and sustainable. However, certain Federal agencies have begun to interpret environmental regulations in ways that may severely restrict the methods used to grow and harvest shellfish. NOAA consultations under the Endangered Species Act and the Essential Fish Habitat provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Act have not considered the significant ecological benefits of shellfish culture. The Army Corps of Engineers has released a draft Nationwide Permit for shellfish aquaculture that will make it more difficult and more expensive for our shellfish farms to operate. We have participated in the public process with the Corps to point out our concerns with their draft proposed rule, but we have no assurances that our concerns will be addressed in the final rule. For instance we find particularly onerous the finding by the Corps that shell used in oyster culture and the shellfish themselves can be considered "fill" under the Clean Water Act. Clearly, the Clean Water Act was not meant to impose new restrictions on environmentally positive activities like shellfish farming.

Action, Army Corps of Engineers:

If the ACOE's new Nationwide Permits are finalized in a manner that does not adequately address the seafood community's concerns of duplicative and economically burdensome requirements, shellfish farmers will work with their respective Congressional delegations to move legislative language clarifying that molluscan shellfish are not pollutants under the Clean Water Act and, as such, no new federal permitting requirements are necessary.

Action, NOAA:

The nation's shellfish farmers request that the agency:

1. conduct its consultations programmatically so that individual shellfish farmers are not required to shoulder the financial burden of the consultation processes.

2. consider all available scientific evidence in conducting its consultation process, including the significant scientific evidence showing that shellfish culture results in an overall environmental benefit.

3. consider the habitat value provided by shellfish and shellfish aquaculture gear in determining the effects of shellfish farming on managed fish and wildlife species.

4. consider that the vast majority of the nation's shellfish farms have been in existence for a number of years, over a century in some cases, and are therefore part of the environmental baseline against which future effects are evaluated.

 
Issue: FDA movement toward post-harvest treatment to control illness

In recent years the shellfish industry has suffered from outbreaks of food poisoning linked to a naturally occurring bacteria called Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp). The industry continues to work with the FDA to improve the safety of our products, however the FDA is mandating additional Vp control methods and is threatening to require post-harvest treatment (PHT) of all shellfish. PHT kills the shellfish as well as the bacteria, eliminating the competitive advantage we now have over foreign imports. Last year warnings by the FDA hurt growers who were selling shellfish that was uncontaminated.

FDA Actions:

Support the current Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) efforts to guide shellfish safety standards and oppose FDA actions that might lead to a national requirement for PHT. The FDA should work closely with the ISSC before issuing advisory warnings.

USDA Action:

Restore funding support for the only USDA ARS lab doing Vibrio research.

 
Issue: Funding for critical NOAA and USDA aquaculture programs

- The NOAA Marine Aquaculture Initiative was originally funded at $5M in 2000, but funding in subsequent years dwindled and needs to be restored to at least the initial funding level. This program supports U.S. aquaculture in general, and our shellfish community has been successful in using this funding source to tackle issues key to our industry.

- The NOAA Fisheries Milford Laboratory in Connecticut has a 75-year history of providing unique R&D, extension, and public outreach activities supporting the US shellfish aquaculture industry. The staff of approximately 50 research and support personnel provides valuable assistance to commercial hatcheries and growers. Funding for the Milford Laboratory is again threatened.

- The Microbial Safety of Aquaculture Products Center of Excellence in Delaware does important work to insure that the shellfish we produce are safe to eat. Their work includes studies on noroviruses, hepatitis, and Vibrio, all of which can cause human health problems. Their funding is also in jeopardy.

Actions:

Support funding the NOAA Marine Aquaculture Initiative at a minimum of $5M annually. Support funding of the Milford Laboratory either through appropriations for the NOAA/NMFS Northeast Fisheries Science Center or through an earmark. Support funding of the Microbial Safety lab at Delaware State University, part of the USDA, ARS Eastern Regional Food Safety Research Unit.

 
Issue: Crop insurance

Land-based agriculture in the U.S. is covered against unusual losses due to pestilence, disease and weather. However, crop insurance for shellfish farmers is not available at realistic rates from private insurers. A government-backed crop insurance program for shellfish farmers would provide help in times of catastrophic loss and make investment in this industry more attractive. Recently the Gulf Coast shellfish industry, in conjunction with a private contractor, developed a model crop insurance program and that plan has been presented to USDA's Risk Management Agency. We stand ready to assist the USDA Risk Management Agency develop a program that meets the needs of the shellfish industry.

Action:

The Risk Management Agency should be encouraged to work with the shellfish industry to develop a workable and affordable crop insurance program.

 
Issue: ECSRI

The East Coast Shellfish Research Institute was formed to increase public awareness of shellfish aquaculture activities through research, education and outreach and to channel funding from government agencies, private foundations and corporate giving programs to regional research institutions for targeted research. Current priorities include studies on: the environmental benefits of shellfish culture, the effects of shell planting, impacts of bottom cultivation, Vp detection methods and marketing research.

Actions:

ECSRI is working to identify funding sources for our research priorities. The targeted research areas require about $750K in funding. This support could come from an earmark, or from support through existing mechanisms such as the NOAA/NMFS Milford Laboratory.