Dave Mayfield of the Virginia Pilot reports that Bill DeSteph of Virginia Beach is sponsoring a bill that would raise the $1.50 an acre per year for the right to lease the bottoms of state-owned waterways for growing oysters and clams to $5,000. The fee increase would be for beds planted within 1000 feet of residential property. The specifics seem to indicate that this bill is mainly aimed at curbing the activities of Virginia Beach waterman that work in and around the Lynnhaven River. The legislation is one of several bills DeStaph has introduced which stem from pressure by Virginia Beach waterfront homeowners, who have complained that these oyster farms are encroaching on their properties. It is doubtful this legislation has much hope of gaining any traction in the General Assembly, given the increased profile of the state’s aquaculture industry.
Property owners along the Lynnhaven River and its tributaries in Virginia Beach listed protests to the oyster lease applications, siting problems while trying to navigate boats around oystermen and their cages. There have also been claims that oyster aquaculture close to shore, with the low lease rates, will hurt property values.
“We’re trying to put out a strong position and open a strong discussion on what can be done, “ said DeSteph. He also notes that shellfish growers, in the past have opposed any changes to the rate, but that it may be time them to meet in the middle with waterfront property owners.
The leasing program is managed by the Virginia Marine Resources Commission. The VMRC has not taken a position on the bill, but has noted that up to 50% of the leased waterways could be affected.
Representatives of Shellfish Growers of Virginia referred questions to the group’s chairman, Doug McMinn, owner of Wake-based Chesapeake Bay Oyster Co. He hasn’t responded to phone and email messages.