Aquaculture deserves provisional chance
Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Bay are by far the largest bodies of interior water in Sussex County. But when it comes to discussions of leased bottom for private aquaculture, the size of those waters quickly shrinks.
The Center for the Inland Bays and other advocates have been working hard to successfully navigate the tricky waters that could lead to oyster farming in the bays. Legislation to allow a limited amount of bay bottom to be leased to private operators could come during this session of the General Assembly.
On the surface, and even below the surface, aquaculture sounds like a no-brainer.
Hundreds of thousands of oysters growing on trays and racks can be cultivated in small areas.
The market for fresh oysters - a natural and local source of protein - is growing rapidly.
More and more people are enjoying oysters on the half shell, in stews and Rockefellers, fried and roasted. And oysters are amazing filtering machines. The more there are, the cleaner those waters will be.
So what’s the hesitation? Well, other creatures and people besides oysters and oyster farmers value the bays’ public resources.
Clammers, fishermen, motor boaters and sailors all love the freedom that the completely public waters offer. They fear a loss of freedom that changing the status quo would bring. Taking a public resource is no small matter.
Advocates say only a very limited amount of bottom would be leased, and therefore be off-limits to all other uses. During innumerable hearings and workshops they have mapped potential areas where there would be no apparent conflict. Development of even those limited areas, they say, would take many years.
These merits and concerns have legitimacy, but aquaculture - gaining more and more currency up and down the East Coast - deserves at least a chance in Delaware. Once areas and regulations are aired and defined, a five-year limit should be placed on the enabling legislation. At the end of those years, the enterprise should be reviewed to determine its success.
Give it a fair chance, but force legislators to revisit this decision and determine the program’s value before enacting permanent legislation to privatize portions of the Inland Bays.