Shellfish Aquaculture in the Inland Bays

December 2024

Get the Facts About Shellfish Aquaculture in the Inland Bays!

Read the Shellfish Aquaculture Fact Sheet here.

Read the Aquaculture Planning Team Final Report here.
Learn more about the potential benefits: “Shellfish Aquaculture on the Inland Bays”.

One year after creating the Inland Bays Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team and naming E.J. Chalabala, Restoration Coordinator for the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays (CIB), to lead it, the CIB Board of Directors approved the final report from the team at their meeting on March 22, 2013.

The Tiger Team was charged with exploring the opportunities and challenges in bringing shellfish aquaculture back to the Inland Bays. Delaware is the only state on the eastern seaboard without a shellfish aquaculture industry, one that could bring not only economic benefits to Delaware, but also ecological benefits to the beleaguered Inland Bays.

With annual revenue of $119 million dollars on the east coast alone, the shellfish aquaculture industry is growing fast, fueled by demand for local seafood, and restaurant interest in serving and locally-sourced food.

Presently, shellfish aquaculture is prohibited by law under the Delaware State Code, so the first step to clear the way for this new business on the Inland Bays would require changes to the Code which must be ratified by the Delaware State Legislature. Many stakeholders are hopeful that the legislation will be introduced in the current legislation session.

Eleven member agencies each held one voting seat on the Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team; the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC) Fish and Wildlife; DNREC Watershed Stewardship; DNREC Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands; DE Department of Agriculture (DDA); University of Delaware Sea Grant; Sussex County Economic Development Office; recreational interests; commercial clamming and oyster industry interests; the Shellfish Advisory Council, and the CIB.

Three sub-committees were formed and prepared reports and recommendations for the Tiger Team. ‘Information Gathering and Synthesis’ mapped potential lease sites and developed the Potential Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Areas Report; ‘Policy Funding and Permitting’ prepared draft Code that would assist the State Legislature in crafting legislation and estimated the cost of administering shellfish aquaculture production on the Inland Bays. The ‘Education and Outreach Sub-committee’ identified and reached out to additional stakeholder groups locally and statewide who had an economic or environmental interest in the initiative.

The draft code will be delivered to legislative sponsors shortly by representatives of the CIB, DNREC, and DDA.

Delaware is the only coastal state with no commercial shellfish aquaculture; a multimillion dollar business in our neighboring states up and down the East Coast. Demonstration of successful oyster growth throughout the Inland Bays, along with interest in the commercial production of oysters prompted the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays to begin to explore the potential of commercial aquaculture in the Inland Bays. In response to stakeholder interest, the CIB held a one-day workshop in June 2011 to explore the feasibility of shellfish aquaculture operations in Delaware’s Inland Bays.

cover of man catching oysters

The Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team

At the CIB Board of Director’s Meeting on March 30, 2012 the formation of a task force, named the ‘Aquaculture Tiger Team’ was announced. The CIB convened a diverse group of stakeholders to form a Shellfish Aquaculture Tiger Team to consider the opportunities and challenges of allowing commercial shellfish aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays. The Team, includes the Center for the Inland Bays, the Delaware SeaGrant Advisory Service, Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, Delaware Department of Agriculture, recreational fishing interests, commercial shellfishing interests, and other stakeholder groups.

The Tiger Team had three working committees

  • The Policy, Permitting and Funding Subcommittee reviewed current rules and regulations in the Delaware Code and proposed draft revisions and legislation to permit commercial aquaculture on the Inland Bays for consideration by the State Legislature.
  • The GIS Spatial Planning Subcommittee mapped existing uses and activities on the Bays to determine the areas that shellfish aquaculture can occur in balance with other Bay users.
  • The Education and Outreach Committee is worked to inform the public about the economic opportunities that commercial shellfish aquaculture can bring to our community and the ecological benefits it could bring to the Inland Bays; and build support for legislation permitting shellfish aquaculture on the Inland Bays.

As with all new initiatives, the benefits need to be weighed against the costs. The team is met monthly to study every aspect of the plan; to identify conflicts, and consider the needs and concerns of those who live on and use the Bays. There were regulatory and enforcements issues and costs to evaluate, data on native populations of clams as well as the experience of commercial clammers to assess, and navigation and recreation uses to consider. The team heard from local people who are interested in starting an aquaculture business and invited specialists in from our neighboring states to get their best advice.

Documents & Presentations from Aquaculture Tiger Team Meetings

A healthy oyster population can provide tremendous ecological benefits in an estuary, such as habitat restoration and water quality improvements. Over the past several years, the CIB, in collaboration with the University of Delaware’s Marine Advisory Service, has successfully demonstrated the viability of growing shellfish in the Inland Bays through our Inland Bays Oyster Gardening Program using a variety of aquaculture techniques and methods. These include the off-bottom culture of oysters using Taylor floats and other commercial aquaculture gear.

Numerous key benefits could be gained from the implementation of oyster aquaculture in the Inland Bays.

  • Provide a local source of native oysters to local markets.
  • Bring in more “green” jobs to Delaware and its economy.
  • Improvement of biological, chemical, and physical components of Bay water quality through aquatic habitat enhancement, excess nutrient removal, and improved water clarity.
  • Enhancing existing native oyster populations throughout the Inland Bays.
  • Increasing habitat for numerous other aquatic organisms.
  • Increased public awareness of the ecological and societal benefits of shellfish aquaculture for the estuary.

The Inland Bays watershed has long relied on conventional industries like agriculture and tourism to generate our local economy. As the demand for protein-rich seafood increases, many look to aquaculture as a sustainable segment of non-traditional food production that also presents new economic opportunities for southern Delaware.

To learn more read Shellfish Aquaculture in Delaware’s Inland Bays-Status, Opportunities, and Constraints