This whole business has been the subject of ongoing controversy between the DNREC and the Center for the Inland Bays, and other “stakeholders,” for quite a few years now. A public hearing is being held on a proposed regulation on June 8, 2016. Green Delaware submitted these comments:
Mr. Robert P. Haynes, Esq., Senior Hearing Officer, Office of the Secretary
Steven Smailer, Section Manager, Wetlands and Subaqueous Lands Section
Virgil Holmes, Director, DNREC Division of Water
Below are some comments from Green Delaware on the proposed Shellfish Aquaculture regulation.
(1) In my opinion the conduct of public hearings by the DNREC habitually lacks respect for the public in numerous important ways. The Department should allow members of the public to be considered “parties,” should properly admit materials as exhibits, should allow questioning of witnesses, and should not admit post-hearing responses without allowing opportunity for rebuttal. The record should be left open for at least two weeks following the hearing so as to allow opportunity to digest and react to information developed at the hearing.
(2) The proposed regulation seems to be based on claims or assumptions that improvement in water quality will result. However, documents contained in or cited in this matter do not seem to support such claims. A report from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation does not seem to support such claims. The Department should not proceed to implement the proposed regulation/program without better reason to think water quality benefits would result.
(3) Input into this matter seems to have been dominated by commercial interests. This comment particularly applies to the so-called “Tiger Team” organized by the Center for the Inland Bays. The public seems to have been largely excluded.
(4) The role, or potential role, of the Department of Agriculture in regulating and/or promoting a shellfish aquaculture program should be clarified, and the expertise in the Delaware Department of Agriculture to do so should be identified.
(5) The list of public hearing speakers circulated by Mr. Haynes seems to contain representatives of many organizations not adequately included in previous discussions. We also note the suspicious expulsion by the Center for the Inland Bays of Mr. Steve Callanen from participation in discussions.
(6) We understand that the proposed locations of aquaculture operations are in eutrophic waters, where dissolved oxygen levels at night are likely to drop to very low levels, leading to anaerobic respiration by oysters. This raises questions regarding the potential for commercially viable net growth of oyster biomass at these locations.
(7) Before proceeding, an evaluation/peer review of the proposed regulations/program by independent experts outside of Delaware should be carried out. This should include an evaluation of potential negative impacts.
(8) We have heard from a significant number of Delaware residents expressing concern about the proposed regulation.
For these and other reasons not stated here, Green Delaware feels that the proposed regulation is not “ready for prime time” and should not be adopted at this time. Increasing the population of oysters, hard clams, and other filter feeders in the Inland Bays is probably a worth goal, but this should be done via activities soundly based in “the science” and with due regard for the various interests having a stake in the condition of the Bays.
Alan Muller, Executive Director
Alan Muller, Executive Director