Lawmakers promote measures to enhance NJ oyster farming

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Proposed legislation aims to increase the growth of New Jersey’s aquaculture industry and boost oyster production.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Atlantic,  and Assemblyman Bob Andrzejczak, D-Cape May, would consolidate the review process for obtaining permits for aquaculture projects.

That industry in New Jersey is now regulated by about a dozen agencies with different requirements, Andrzejczak said.

“It’s really preventing any new farmers from getting involved in aquaculture and also any existing farmer from trying to expand their operation. It’s almost impossible,” he said. “So having this new legislation in there will definitely simplify it and made it easier for everybody.”

Brian Harmon, the oyster farm manager at Cape May Salt Oysters, said streamlining the permit rules would be a welcome change.

“You have to track down at least four different people from different offices, and they’ve got to be coordinated on pushing this permit through for you. Right now it’s really a drag to do,” he said. “In the past couple of years alone, I know five or six people that have gotten into oyster farming and just kind of threw up their hands and said, ‘This is just too much.’ It’s too burdensome to get started.”

Only about a handful of oyster farms are operating now in New Jersey, Harmon said.

Van Drew said the legislation would encourage more to startup.

“It literally could represent millions, if not billions, of dollars to the economy if this industry really takes off the way it has in Virginia and Maryland,” he said. “South Jersey, unfortunately, has the higher per capita unemployment, the lowest per capita income. This would be a real beneficial change.”

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