Part of Package to Boost $36 Million Industry
TRENTON – Two bills sponsored by Senator Jeff Van Drew to recognize the importance of aquaculture to New Jersey and to help streamline approval for oyster production and other aquaculture projects were approved today by the Senate Economic Growth Committee. The bills are part of an initiative to spur growth of the state’s aquaculture farming industry and boost New Jersey’s oyster production operations.
The bills were developed after legislators heard from aquatic farmers and industry experts in New Jersey’s aquaculture industry at a 1st Legislative District Economic Development Task Force meeting.
“New Jersey has the potential to boost its aquaculture industry, which provides tens of millions of dollars to the state’s economy,” said Senator Van Drew, who serves as chair of the task force. “We must recognize the importance of the industry and ensure we are taking steps to grow it for the benefit of farmers and the state as a whole.”
The first bill, a Senate Joint Resolution (SJR-36), declares aquaculture an important State economic driver and urges the State to include the industry in its economic development plans. New Jersey currently has over 160 licensed aquatic farmers who are producing a variety of finfish and shellfish for food, ornamental fish and plants for water gardens, and sport fish for stocking and fee fishing operations. According to the Aquaculture Innovation Center at Rutgers University, the total economic impact of aquaculture to New Jersey is as high as $36 million. With New Jersey’s coastal location and its proximity to the largest consumer markets in the nation, aquaculture can and should be a thriving and vital industry in the State.
The second bill (S-316) would require the state Secretary of Agriculture and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with the United States Army Corps in order to establish a joint application process for aquaculture projects that require both state and federal permits, licenses or approvals. This is a companion bill to S-317, which consolidates the review process for aquaculture projects on the state level, between the state Secretary of Agriculture and Commissioner of Environmental Protection. Currently, applicants seeking permits for aquaculture projects must deal with 11 different state agencies and bureaus with various requirements.
“In order to grow the aquaculture industry and the production of oysters on our coasts, we have to ensure we are supporting aquatic farmers. Eliminating red tape in the review process for project permitting is a great way to do that,” said Senator Van Drew. “It will reduce the time and money spent by aquatic farmers who are currently forced to navigate nearly a dozen agencies and bureaus with varying requirements to move their businesses forward.”
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, aquaculture is the farming of fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants. This process includes regular stocking, feeding, and protection from predators in order to improve production. New Jersey focuses on the farming of bivalve shellfish, primarily hard clams and oysters. The Department reported that the state currently has more than 160 licensed aquatic farmers.
Both bills were approved by a vote of 5-0. They next go to the full Senate for consideration.