East Coast Shellfish Growers Association Legislative Agenda, September 2005
The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association represents hundreds of small shellfish farmers from Maine to Florida who produce hundreds of millions of clams and oysters each year. In 1997 US growers produced $90 million in cultured shellfish on 738 farms. Many states continue to enjoy substantial growth in shellfish aquaculture. The consumer demand is strong and the US continues to import substantial amounts of shellfish. 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 lack of flexibility to deal with changing market trends. Adequate funding of the development of commercial shellfish farming will have they dual return of fostering economic growth and benefiting the environment by reestablishing filter feeders into the estuary.
Issue: Susceptibility of the shellfish aquaculture industry to natural disasters
The devastating hurricanes in Florida in 2004 and, most recently, on the Gulf Coast have destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars of shellfish production, crushed hundreds of small businesses and ruined the production, harvesting and processing infrastructure for a huge segment of the industry. Combined losses of production and infrastructure are projected to total several billion dollars. Thousands of jobs have been destroyed and these businesses will only be able to recover with substantial federal assistance.
Better planning and project design may have mitigated some of these losses. The industry needs to adopt Best Management Practices (BMP) that both minimize negative interactions with the environment and other user groups while preparing growers to deal with natural disasters. BMPs outline the benefits and impacts of shellfish cultivation and where these methods are most appropriate. BMPs help growers and managers address animal husbandry issues such as disease and predator control. Repeated efforts to fund such planning efforts through government grants have not been successful. We need to assess the vulnerabilities of the industry to natural disasters such as red tides, oil spills and hurricanes so that we can do a better job of designing projects so that we can minimize losses and recover from disasters more quickly. We need to plan for growth in ways that minimize conflicts with other user groups and ensure sustainable expansion. This planning will maximize the benefit of shellfish farming not only to our economy to the ecosystem in which we work.
Action: The East Coast Shellfish Growers Association is seeking Federal appropriations to assess the vulnerabilities of the industry and institute Best Management Practices that will enable us to do a better job of planning for natural disasters, minimize losses and prepare for growth.
Issue: Petition to list the American oyster as an endangered species
NOAA is considering a petition to list the oyster under the endangered species act because of serious declines in mid-Atlantic populations. Chesapeake Bay harvests have dropped to record low levels because of decades of fisheries mismanagement and oyster diseases. In contrast, oyster aquaculture has been steadily increasing to the north and south and along the Gulf coast. Unfortunately, an endangered classification would restrict harvest throughout the range from Maine to Texas and the impacts on the aquaculture industry would be devastating. The impacts of such a listing would do more harm than good to wild populations and the environment.
Action: Request that the Secretary of Commerce not list the oyster, but direct him instead to explore other solutions to this regional issue that do not negatively impact the entire oyster industry from Maine to Texas. Explore modifications to the Endangered Species Act that require workable recovery plans and sound, science-based decisions.
Issue: ACOE – EPA - NOAA interaction on shellfish issues
Shellfish aquaculture has been shown to be both 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. Managers need to recognize that commercial shellfish aquaculture is an ally and agent of ecological restoration.
An EPA ruling that oysters on a shellfish farm constitute “fill” defies logic while setting off requirements for additional environmental consultations and permits. NOAA is promoting aquaculture on one hand, and interfering with its 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.
Issue: Retaliatory tariffs on oyster exports to Canada
The World Trade Organization has decreed that our anti-dumping levies on imported goods (allowed under the Byrd Amendment) are illegal and has authorized impacted countries to levy retaliatory tariffs. The $5 million dollars of US oysters shipped into Canada annually are now subject to a 15% tariff that hurts our ability to compete in their markets and costs US growers almost one million dollars a year.
Action: Repeal the Byrd Amendment – Support H.R. 1121
Issue: Introduction of non-native shellfish species
Maryland is considering the introduction of Crassostrea ariakensis into Chesapeake Bay. This Asian oyster has been shown to survive and grow well in the Bay and there is support by the local oyster industry for a rapid introduction of fully reproductive animals.
Action: Additional research is needed to ensure that the introduction of C. ariakensis will not have negative impacts on the environment and the native oyster. Efforts to restore the native oyster using commercial aquaculture (which has been effective elsewhere) deserve proper evaluation in the Mid-Atlantic.
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, 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: The Risk Management Agency should be encouraged to evaluate and extend their pilot crop insurance program for clams to include oysters and to extend the coverage to the entire nation.
Representing the Needs of Aquaculture and the Environment