TRENTON – As part of an initiative to spur growth of the state’s aquaculture industry and boost New Jersey’s oyster production operations, Senator Jeff Van Drew sponsored two bills to streamline state rules for aquaculture farming projects. The bills – aiming to create a ‘one-stop shop’ for project permits, eliminating the bureaucratic maze that operators are forced to navigate – were signed into law today by Governor Chris Christie.
The laws were inspired by testimony from aquatic farmers and industry experts in New Jersey’s aquaculture industry at a 1st Legislative District Economic Development Task Force meeting held by legislators.
“New Jersey has the potential to boost its aquaculture industry and to really grow the production of oysters on our coasts,” said Senator Van Drew, who serves as chair of the task force. “By improving our permitting processes, we will help to 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. These measures are a common sense way to help business owners and aquatic farmers expand their operations in the state.”
Currently, applicants seeking permits for aquaculture projects must deal with 11 different state agencies and bureaus with various requirements.
The first law (S317) will consolidate the review process for aquaculture projects, by requiring the state Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with the state Commissioner of Environmental Protection, to develop a coordinated permitting review program for aquaculture projects. The program would provide for a coordinated application for any permit, approval or authorization required for an aquaculture project and would consolidate the review process for the coordinated permit application.
The second law (S316) requires the state Secretary of Agriculture and the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to work with the United States Army Corps to seek to establish a joint application process for aquaculture projects that require both state and federal permits, licenses or approvals.
On Dec. 6, the governor signed a Senate Joint Resolution (SJR-36), sponsored by Van Drew, declaring 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.
S317 will take effect 180 days following enactment; S316 takes effect immediately.