Lease Blues

So I’ve spent near two years prepping and waiting on my lease to come through from the state.  I was all set to go last summer, when a protest was received by DNR from a commercial crabber.  That pretty much ended my chances of starting in 2014.  Meanwhile, our local crabbing fishery experienced the worst year on record in terms of catch.  My oysters could have been in the river, improving the water quality and providing habitat for crabs, but that could not occur.  I spent the summer practicing with my boat and gear and raising some hobby oysters off of the farm dock.  Unfortunately the dock’s location is not ideal for growing oysters.  The salinity fluctuates too much and the flow isn’t that great.  Pretty much the opposite of the farm lease.  Nevertheless, I hired some part-time help and ran through the motions as I waited for the red tape/politics to play out.

As it turned out, that took quite a bit longer than expected.  The adjacent private property owners had installed an offshore hunting blind after I had applied for the lease and raised their concerns during a county public hearing.  More details can be read here:

Public Hearing Draws Full House

Oyster Aquaculture Plan Shakes up Watermen

I thought, “here we go”.  I had purposefully selected a shoreline with no waterfront homes or offshore hunting blinds.  I already had to relocate the application once, due to blind concerns by another owner.  In addition, I had been sending the private property owners written letters to try discuss the project, for the last year or so.  DNR had done the same.  Politics aside, the offshore blind was too close to my lease for comfortable long-term co-habituation.  I had to come to the negotiating table prepared to compromise.

This involved several rounds of private and DNR mediated negotiation with the protestant and private property owners.  There were points where I was infuriated and points where I’m sure the other side was less than pleased with me.  This proved to be a good lesson though.  I was pursuing a legal project with the full support of the state, and I had to remind myself that several times throughout.  Long story short, a compromise was finally reached that allowed me to start the farm this year (2015) at the current site (w/limitations) and move to a nearby site once DNR approves.  This was a win-win for all parties, in that I made concessions to limit the perceived negative impacts to crabbing and hunting and they agreed to withdraw their opposition and help facilitate the move to the nearby site.  The nearby site proved to be just as good, if not better, than my current site.  In fact, it’s an ideal environment for raising oysters, as they are sheltered from urban and agricultural runoff.  In addition, the site receives a salty flush from the bay and a nutrient rich flush from the river, both twice daily.  It should yield an excellent oyster.

Exhausted by the nuances, self-doubt and back-and-forth, I have now set out to ready the boat and build more gear, with an actual finite timeline in mind.  Thanks to my family, a whole lot of local support and industry advocates like Don Webster, I was able to achieve this.  There are other farmers that have spent years fighting opposition and still are not able to begin.  I feel for them and hope my story can help other beginning farmers navigate the choppy state political waters.

You can read more stories on the drama:

Oyster Farm Gets OK

After Delay, Farm Moving Forward

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