...to preserve, protect, develop, and restore coastal resources for all Rhode Islanders
Shellfish aquaculture is growing in Rhode Island. As it grows more people are seeing the farms and have questions about it. These Frequently Asked Questions are intended to provide information to boaters, fishermen and the general public.
What is grown in RI? Currently all of the farms in the state’s waters grow shellfish with the vast majority being oysters. Additionally the state cultures fish for stocking freshwater fisheries and for restoring coastal habitats.
Who regulates aquaculture in Rhode Island? The RI Coastal Resources Management Council is the lead agency for all aquaculture in RI. The Council works with Department of Environmental Management, the Department of Health, fishing groups (both commercial and recreational), towns, and environmental organizations when permitting an aquaculture lease.
Does the state give the submerged land away? The area occupied by an aquaculture farm is not given away. The water and land beneath it belongs to all of the citizens of the state and is held in trust for all of its citizens. The area is managed under the “Public Trust Doctrine” for everyone. Aquaculture farms can get a limited lease of the submerged land from the state, they do not own it. In fact the lease area is not an exclusive lease and still can be used for many other uses. If a farmer abuses the lease provisions, the state can revoke the lease.
Can any area be leased? No. In consultation with fishing groups and other regulatory agencies, there are many restrictions on which areas can be leased. Areas that support a wild harvest of shellfish, areas of eelgrass, navigation areas, etc. are examples of areas not suitable for aquaculture farms.
How long do the leases last? The RI Legislature has set the lease maximum length at 15 years. Leases are renewable by the farmers upon submission of a new application upon expiration of their lease providing the farmer has continued to abide by the conditions in the lease.
What does the farmer have to do to maintain the lease? The lease must be actively farmed and comply with all of the conditions of the permit. The farmer has to post a bond to enable the state to remove the gear in case of default and the farmer has to sign a lease yearly and pay a yearly lease fee. Failure to comply with any of the conditions of the lease can result in the lease being revoked.
Are there limits on the amount of area that can be leased? Yes, the CRMC, in consultation with the fishing industry and other regulatory agencies, has developed guidelines that restrict aquaculture to a maximum 5% of any coastal pond.
Can I use the farm area too? Yes, within limits. The public can pass through a farm, however it is illegal to disturb the farmer’s gear or harvest his stock. At all times mariners are expected to use caution and common sense when traversing farms. When in doubt, ask the farmer or the Aquaculture Coordinator at the CRMC.
How is shellfish disease managed? The first thing to remember is that we are talking about diseases of shellfish only. None of the diseases that seed are tested for are capable of affecting humans. The state does not allow shellfish with diseases capable of affecting humans to be brought into the state. A report from a certified disease specialist certifying the seed as disease-free must be supplied to CRMC prior to any permission being granted to import shellfish seed into the state. CRMC also has an Aquaculture Biosecurity Board to ensure the rules are kept up to date.
Will the state allow marine finfish farms? Possibly, but it would be very difficult to permit a finfish farm in RI waters. One of the problems we already have is excess nutrients polluting the state’s waters. A marine finfish farm would add to this problem of excess nutrients from fish feeds and fish wastes. Finfish farms are already prohibited in the coastal ponds because of this pollution concern.
Then why allow shellfish? Shellfish are filter feeders that consume algae from the water. The farmer does not feed them, thus there are no added nutrients. Additionally shellfish filter algae from the water, up to 50 gallons per day for a large oyster, and this helps clean the water. It is generally accepted that shellfish aquaculture is a net benefit for the environment.
How can I learn more about aquaculture? There are a number of ways. On the CRMC web page there are a number of articles, regulatory information, presentations and links to other sites. The web address is: http://www.crmc.state.ri.us/aquaculture.html. Another way to learn more about aquaculture is to ask the farmer. Please use common sense in approaching farmers; they are working to make a living.
How can I recognize an aquaculture farm? The standard markers required include a 1 foot square safety orange square, or an orange diamond, with “Aquaculture” “CRMC” and the lease number on it. Leases are required to be marked on all four corners.
Danger Buoy: Marks an obstruction where boats should not navigate or should use extreme caution.
Information Buoy: Used to relay information.