OCEAN CITY – Governor Martin O’Malley, joined by Bay Cabinet members and Worcester County officials, toured Chincoteague Bay this week, visiting a local oyster aquaculture business to explore and discuss the potential economic and environmental benefits of expanding Maryland’s aquaculture industry.
“We have yet to take full advantage of the renewed interest in shellfish aquaculture that offers a great economic and environmental restoration opportunity for our coastal bays,” said O’Malley. “No time is better than the present to develop new, and expand established local businesses that can utilize renewable natural resources to create sustainable economic and cultural benefits.”
The tour began at the Great Eastern Chincoteague Shellfish Co., the only off-bottom, float shellfish aquaculture operation in Maryland’s coastal bays. The company primarily sells native oysters as “Snow Hill Oysters” to raw bars across the country, local restaurants and local farmers markets. The discussion with the company’s owners Luke Breza and David Chamberlain provided an opportunity to observe the businesses’ daily operations and importance to the local economy.
“We appreciate Governor O’Malley’s visit to our oyster farm to learn how local shellfish aquaculture is helping to resurrect the legendary Chincoteague Bay Oyster and improve water quality in our coastal bays. It’s great to see the state supporting one of the true potential growth spots in our rural economy,” said Breza.
Maryland’s existing oyster aquaculture industry employees more than 30 people and generates up to $1 million for the state’s economy. Under O’Malley, the Maryland Department of Agriculture is working to implement aquaculture enterprise zones, which will help streamline the permit process in the Chesapeake and coastal bays, provide incentives to catalyze private investment in leasing operations and encourage commercial fishery experts to transition to aquaculture.
“Maryland has an outstanding reputation for high quality seafood. Oysters are critical to our economy, our environment and our state’s identity,” said Maryland Department of Agriculture Secretary Roger Richardson.
Recognizing aquaculture’s great potential to provide ecological benefits, while also seeking to reduce user conflicts, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recently formed a Coastal Bays Aquaculture Development Workgroup, which is expected to recommend strategies to address the issues and opportunities associated with aquaculture in our Coastal Bays later this year.
“Aquaculture’s potential to increasing the number of oysters and clams living in the coastal bays could make a significant difference in the bays’ health,” added Secretary John R. Griffin. “Aquaculture also provides a unique opportunity to diversify business opportunities for our watermen and rural, resource-based seafood industries.”