Aquaculture leasing should include experience
Delaware’s Division of Fish and Wildlife is developing a set of regulations to govern the leasing of portions of the Inland Bays for shellfish aquaculture. The regulations aren’t being considered in a void. There were several public meetings prior to passage of the legislation authorizing the leasing.
This year, there have already been two public sessions to gather public input.
These are important meetings since they involve the privatization of natural resources that through most of our history have been public. One crucial aspect of the regulations is how people will be chosen for the privilege of leasing these public, subaqueous lands. One suggestion put forward by the state is a lottery, which means the lands would be leased mostly by chance. It can’t be that simple. It wouldn’t be smart.
Some special consideration should be given to the men and women who hold commercial shellfishing licenses and have experience working the bays. They have been invested, often for generations. With that experience comes knowledge of the bays, their seasons, their vagaries, and the creatures that can make working them challenging.
For example, how many clams will a skate eat, when, and how can they be deterred? That experience also provides knowledge of what it is like to interact with the recreational boating public which also shares these resources.
None of these is a small consideration, and all need to become part of the discussion.
Several hundred acres of subaqueous lands have been identified for aquaculture leases.
They are a small fraction of the bays’ total acreage, but there is enough room to think creatively about how some portion of them could be reserved for those who have demonstrated their serious interest through commercial activity over a certain number of years.
Delaware’s lawmakers, employees of the Fish and Wildlife Division, people involved with the Center for the Inland Bays, and many private watermen interested in aquaculture want this aquaculture initiative to be successful.
That would be good for the bays and the local economy. They should all work to guarantee success by ensuring that people with real-world experience in the commercial shellfish world of the Inland Bays get preference when the important decisions are made determining who will get leases.