- Report Published -
|Management of State-owned Bottomlands on the Seaside of the Eastern Shore|
|Virginia Institute of Marine Science; Virginia Marine Resources Commission|
|SJR 330 (Regular Session, 2011)|
|SJR 330 charged VIMS and VMRC with examining how the state-owned bottomlands could be more effectively utilized to (i) support the management and fishery of wild shellfish populations, (ii) promote sustainable aquaculture, (iii) enhance habitat restoration, and (iv) protect natural resources. A study panel comprised of stakeholders representing public watermen, shellfish aquaculturists and environmental interests reviewed existing data on the distribution of current oyster beds on the seaside in relation to the Baylor Grounds (i.e., designated public shellfish bed boundaries). The panel also reviewed data on the extent of private bottom leases, fisheries landings from wild shellfish harvest and aquaculture, and habitat suitability for state-owned bottomlands from recent studies on the seaside.|
The principal finding of the study is that the current designations of public shellfish beds, which are based largely upon a survey conducted by Baylor in 1894, do not adequately reflect the current distribution of natural oyster beds on the seaside. The majority of natural oyster beds in this region lie outside of the Baylor Grounds, mostly on unassigned state-owned bottomlands. Further, much of the area within the Baylor Grounds on the seaside is not suitable for restoring natural oyster beds. This situation is detrimental to the public fishery for oysters because it makes it possible for individuals to lease natural oyster beds, thereby removing them from the public fishery. It is also detrimental to the private shellfish aquaculture industry because it excludes some areas, which have no value to the public fishery from being leased for aquaculture. Other findings of the study point to the need for a management approach to state-owned bottomlands on the seaside, which more effectively supports ongoing successful efforts to restore seagrass beds and scallop populations, enhance recreational activities, and protect natural resources.
Independent of the study panel, a series of public workshops were sponsored by the VA Coastal Zone Management Program and the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission on the Eastern Shore to gather input from stakeholders, elected officials, and the general public about potential modifications to the management of state-owned bottomlands on the seaside. Attendees at these meetings expressed strong concern that the current leasing system not be negatively impacted by any changes and that natural shellfish beds remain a public resource.
To address these issues, we make four specific recommendations. First, we recommend that VMRC be authorized to refine the boundaries of the natural oyster beds on the seaside of the Eastern Shore to reflect their actual distribution, while preserving the integrity of all current leases. Second, we recommend several specific guidelines related to commercial value, habitat restoration, other uses, and natural resource protection that VMRC should consider in any changes to public shellfish bed designations. Third, we recommend that VMRC initially make refinements to public shellfish ground boundaries that will bring natural oyster beds in unassigned areas into the public shellfish grounds. Finally, we recommend that when considering designated uses of unassigned state-owned bottomlands on the seaside that VMRC be charged with considering the full range of ecological and economic values associated with the state-owned bottomlands and seek to optimize both types of value.