Farmed Eastern Oysters
Numerous local, state, and federal agencies are involved to some degree in the permitting process and regulation of Eastern oyster aquaculture in the United States. While there is no national oversight agency for aquaculture in the US, there are extensive regulations in place regarding predator controls, therapeutant use, and disease management. Permitting varies by location with numerous federal agencies providing some degree of oversight. These include:
- The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) – which is responsible for coordinating national aquaculture policy and providing industry with research, information, and extension services;
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which regulates waste discharge from aquaculture facilities;
- The Fisheries and Wildlife Service (FWS) – which regulates the introduction and transport of fish; and,
- The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine is responsible for approving and monitoring the use of drugs and medicated feeds used in the aquaculture industry.
Additionally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Coast Guard, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the US Army Corps of Engineers are involved in the permitting and management of Eastern oyster aquaculture. Amongst regulations shellfish farms must adhere to include the Magnuson Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.
Wild-Caught Eastern Oysters
Eastern oysters occupy shallow, tidal waters close to shore – placing them almost exclusively within the jurisdiction of individual state governments in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico. While each Gulf state has somewhat different management measures, all incorporate some form of size limits, fishing seasons, and gear restrictions. Additionally, all Gulf states have programs to move seed oysters (as needed) and to return cultch to oyster beds. Gulf states also enact area restrictions that are off-limits to commercial harvest – usually in part due to water quality concerns or as part of larger efforts to maintain broodstock and reef habitat as well as to reseed adjacent areas. Management also includes regulations controlling harvest totals, efforts, and access; however, no Gulf state has a total allowable catch limit. Florida is the only Gulf state that has a standard threshold for evaluating whether or not an oyster reef can support current fishing pressure. If a reef’s capacity falls under 100 bags of three-inch oysters per acre, the reef is considered depleted whereas if counts are between 100 and 400 bags per acre, the reef can support limited harvesting. Counts over 400 mean the reef is healthy. All states conduct active on-water and dock patrolling activities to enforce management measures.
While eastern oysters in the US Gulf of Mexico are not federally managed, there are mechanisms that link individual Gulf state management programs. The Interjurisdictional Fisheries Act (IJF) establishes and finances programs for information sharing as well as activities that support management of US multijurisdictional fisheries. As part of the IJF, the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission developed an oyster fishery management plan (FMP) in 1991, which was recently updated in 2012. The FMP is a coordinated effort to address disease control, shell movement, region-wide management recommendations, and provides best practices for states to utilize. The FMP also calls for the consideration of modeling tools to allow for region-wide biomass assessments for oysters that are currently lacking.
If in-shore activities require consultation with a federal agency under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act or Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act, the US Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, or the US Fish and Wildlife Service may be called in to provide resource protection recommendations. As oysters are generally consumed raw, numerous local, state, and/or federal health agencies may be involved in management to ensure that harvest areas are growing oysters that are safe for human consumption.
Management regulations are similar along the US East Coast wherein each state is responsible for managing their own eastern oyster fisheries. Every state employs measures such size-limit regulations, seasonal and area closures, gear restrictions, and on-water and dock enforcement. Managers in all states have implemented regulations to help wild populations recover from historic overharvesting by controlling harvest limits and by initiating recovery and restoration initiatives; including programs to provide oyster substrate and to rotate harvest areas. These restorative efforts are often led by state agencies or by NGOs and academic institutions. States share research and harvest information, but there are currently no statewide or regional biomass estimates of eastern oyster populations. No state currently has a total allowable catch limit.
The Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) manages the eastern oyster fishery at the federal level in Canada while the governments of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia manage oysters at the provincial level. The Canadian eastern oyster fishery is managed under the Integrated Fishery Management Plan for American Oyster in the Southern Gulf of St. Lawrence. There is currently no commercial catch limit for this fishery; however, management measures include limits on commercial licenses, minimum size limits (three inches), fishing seasons, and area restrictions. There are also gear restrictions as the only permissible harvest methods for wild oysters are rakes and tongs that must be operated by hand. DFO, Environment Canada, and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency co-manage the Canadian Shellfish Sanitation Program that regulates shellfish harvesting areas, processing, and distribution to ensure that oysters are safe for human consumption. DFO’s Conservation and Protection program is responsible for sustainability and compliance of the oyster fishery. Additionally, fishery officers in Canada conduct land and sea patrols to monitor catch, gears, and licenses. Officers also conduct aerial monitoring to ensure seasonal and area closures are being adhered to.