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Aquaculture in Maryland

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources are accepting the Joint State/Federal Application for a Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture lease and Federal permit Joint Application for State Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Lease and Corps of Engineers Federal Permit in the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and the Coastal Bays. The joint permit application should be submitted to Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Fisheries Service, Aquaculture Division C-2, 580 Taylor Avenue, Annapolis, MD 21401. DNR will forward your joint application to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers must issue a permit before you may conduct shellfish aquaculture activities on your lease. Download The Joint State/Federal Application for a Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture lease and Federal permit. Application and instructions, along with additional information, can be found at Maryland's Department of Natural Resources web page on the Shellfish Aquaculture Program.

Additional Resources

New Permit Process

The Baltimore District issued Regional General Permit-1 (RGP-1) for new commercial, research, and educational bivalve shellfish aquaculture activities for a five-year period. RGP-1 is applicable in waters within the State of Maryland, including the Chesapeake Bay and its tidal tributaries; and the Atlantic Coastal Bays and their tidal tributaries. It expires Aug. 15, 2016. View module below for Frequently Asked Questions. 

The Regulatory Branch proposes to reinstate Nationwide Permit 48, Aug. 16, 2016, for new aquaculture activities with the goal of making the permit process more efficient. The District is requesting comments until May 31, 2016, on proposed changes to the current aquaculture permitting process

Proposed changes include: 

The Baltimore District is proposing to remove the limits on project acreage for aquaculture activities under Nationwide Permit 48. To qualify for the existing Regional General Permit, projects are limited to 50 acres for shell-on-bottom, five acres for cages-on-bottom, and three acres for floating aquaculture activities. Proposed projects greater than these size limits had to undergo an individual permit process, which includes a public notice and comment period, and takes more time to process. Based on project location, there are still regional conditions the project must comply with to include minimizing effects on endangered species, navigation, and historic resources. 

The Baltimore District is also working to streamline the joint state/federal aquaculture review process with Maryland DNR. The process requires applicants to receive an aquaculture lease from Maryland DNR and a permit from the Corps. Currently, the joint application is submitted by the applicant to Maryland DNR for review, and then it is forwarded to the Baltimore District after DNR completes its survey and plans. The Baltimore District proposes DNR forward the application shortly after receipt so both agencies can concurrently review and continue to coordinate throughout the process. Alternatively, the applicant can send the application to both DNR and the Baltimore District. This will enable the Baltimore District to see the application and initiate its review sooner.

The Baltimore District proposes to require additional information in the application to ensure the proposed activities have minimal impacts on navigation and endangered species. These details include a description of structure spacing; the number and spacing of vertical and horizontal lines and buoys; information identifying how adverse effects to navigation and neighboring properties have been avoided; and notification to adjacent property owners.

The Baltimore District also proposes to remove the geographic exclusion lines that made projects upstream of those lines ineligible for authorization under the 2012 Nationwide Permit 48. The lines were intended to protect fish spawning habitat, but the Baltimore District is coordinating with the National Marine Fisheries Service to determine how to best address this concern.

Comments will be accepted via email at woody.francis@usace.army.mil and by mail:

Attn: Woody Francis, Regulatory Branch

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District

10 South Howard St.

Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Aquaculture Permit Process Q&As

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Sheathing lines is not a condition of the Baltimore District's current Regional General Permit-1 for aquaculture. At this time, sheathing lines is also not proposed as a regional condition to Nationwide Permit 48 for aquaculture. The Corps is in the process of informal consultation with National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) during the public comment period on the proposed revised regional conditions to Nationwide Permit 48.

In the past, during certain project-specific informal consultations, NMFS (pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act) has recommended that vertical lines be sheathed to reduce the risk of entanglement with endangered sea turtles. The Corps has advanced these recommendations to applicants, and applicants have indicated that they were willing to sheath vertical lines for their projects. 

No. The expiration of the current Regional General Permit - 1 is driving the proposed changes. 

One of the proposed changes to the permit process is to require additional information in the application to ensure the proposed activities have minimal impacts on neighboring properties, navigation and endangered species. These details include information identifying how adverse effects to navigation and neighboring properties have been avoided by the applicant and notification to adjacent property owners. These proposed changes will hold applicants more accountable for working through some of the anticipated impacts and potential objections and should enable a more efficient permit review process. Members of the public and stakeholders will continue to be able to provide comments to Maryland DNR through their own leasing process.

The Endangered Species Act requires federal agencies to consult with the National Marine Fisheries Service or the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on actions that may affect threatened or endangered species. In the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays in Maryland, there are two species of endangered sturgeon (Atlantic and shortnose) and four species of threatened or endangered sea turtles (green, leatherback, loggerhead and Kemp’s ridley). 

The Regulatory Team worked hard with their partners to develop a path forward to make this process more efficient. Over the years, the team received formal and informal feedback from oyster farmers and other stakeholders in the region. 

They participate in Aquaculture Review Board meetings chaired by Maryland DNR and attended by other agencies, including Maryland Department of the Environment, U.S. Coast Guard, National Marine Fisheries Service and Maryland Historical Trust. They have worked in cooperation with these agencies to identify trends that affect permit processing times. In March 2016, a special workshop was held among representatives from the Corps North Atlantic Division and Norfolk and Baltimore districts, Maryland DNR, and NOAA in order to discuss the best path forward for efficient decision-making processes. Representatives from Norfolk shared information regarding their practices and procedures. 

The Regional General Permit-1 has been effective for five years and is expiring Aug. 15, 2016. The Baltimore District’s Regulatory Branch proposes to reinstate Nationwide Permit 48, Aug. 16, 2016, for new aquaculture activities with the goal of making the permit process more efficient. 

Although efficiencies are being proposed in Maryland, such as unlimited project acreage, there are still differences between Virginia and Maryland’s state permit process, due in part to differences in state laws, rules, and regulations regarding aquaculture. These variables result in differences in how aquaculture projects are reviewed in each state.

The Regulatory team’s expectation is that these proposed changes will strike a balance between allowing oyster aquaculture to the fullest extent possible – recognizing aquaculture’s contributions to the health of the Chesapeake Bay and the regional economy -– while ensuring that projects do not have a negative effect on other natural resources, navigation, or generally on the public interest.

Existing permits from the Corps are still valid according to their terms. Projects authorized under Regional General Permit – 1 will continue to be authorized under Nationwide Permit 48. Nationwide Permit 48 continues to authorize existing aquaculture activities that meet its terms and conditions. The proposed revised regional conditions would require pre-construction notification for existing aquaculture activities only if they were not authorized as of August 15, 2016, or if there is a change in the area worked, or the type of aquaculture conducted (e.g., a change from shell-on-bottom to cages or floats). 

Though the team is proposing to remove the project acreage limits for qualifying aquaculture activities based on ample feedback received over the years, there are still certain regional conditions that must be complied with to include minimizing effects on endangered species, navigation and historic resources. The idea was not to limit a project from the start but to scale the project back, if necessary, based on special factors within the proposed location of the project. The applicant still also needs an active aquaculture lease from Maryland DNR in order to work in the waterway. Additionally, under Maryland’s leasing program, there is a requirement for the leased area to be actively worked, regardless of its type or size. 

The Baltimore District Regulatory Branch has listened to feedback received over the past five years while the Regional General Permit-1 has been active, and they intend to incorporate changes that will make the process more efficient.

The goal has been and remains for the District to come to a permit decision (or issuance) within 60 days of receipt of a federally-completed application. The team expects that these proposed changes will result in meeting this goal more often.

The Baltimore District is proposing to remove the limits on project acreage for aquaculture activities under Nationwide Permit 48. This means that less projects will have to go through an individual permit process, which includes a public notice and comment period and takes more time to process. Under the existing Regional General Permit – 1, proposed projects more than 50 acres for shell on bottom, five acres for cages-on-bottom, and three acres for floating aquaculture activities had to undergo the individual permit process.

The Baltimore District is also working to streamline the joint state/federal aquaculture review process with Maryland DNR. The process requires applicants to receive an aquaculture lease from Maryland DNR and a permit from the Corps. Note: these proposed changes do not affect Maryland DNR’s aquaculture leasing process. The proposed changes are to make the District’s permitting process more efficient.

Currently, the joint application is submitted by the applicant to Maryland DNR for review, and then it is forwarded to the Baltimore District after DNR completes its survey and plans. The Baltimore District proposes that DNR forward the application shortly after receipt so both agencies can concurrently review and continue to coordinate throughout the process. Alternatively, the applicant can send the application to both DNR and the Baltimore District directly. This will enable the Baltimore District to see the application and initiate its review sooner, provided the application is complete.

The District also proposes to require additional information in the application to ensure that proposed activities have minimal impacts on navigation and endangered species. These details include a description of structure spacing; the number and spacing of vertical and horizontal lines and buoys; information identifying how adverse effects to navigation and neighboring properties have been avoided; and notification to adjacent property owners. Under the current Regional General Permit -1, the District requests this information after receiving the permit application, which has frustrated some applicants. Having more information on the project up front will help the team work through the process more efficiently.