New conflicts in agriculture: riverfront property owners and aquaculture
The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot has an article, "On the Lynnhaven River, oyster population sees a comeback – and conflict," about the resurgence of oyster cultivation and harvesting in Virginia, and the conflict in Virginia Beach between a oyster farmer who has applied for leases of river bottom on the Lynnhaven River, in a high income residential area.
After many decades of overharvesting and then decline, facilitated oyster production (aquaculture) has become successful. As more riverbeds are brought into aquaculture production, the opportunity for conflict has increased, to rivers also serving residential and recreational purposes.
Oysters filter water and are a significant contributor to improvements in water quality in the Chesapeake Bay region, including as it happens, the Lynnhaven River. From the article:
Oyster farming, a big factor behind the Lynnhaven’s cleanup, earned him the Green Ribbon position. And that cleanup’s success is why the current battle over oyster leases has been painful for environmental advocates like Forget. Until recently and for most of the past decade, oysters had been nothing but a good-news story along the river. It started with the reopening of the Lynnhaven to harvests in 2007 after a concerted effort to reduce bacteria entering the waterways from human and animal waste. Some parts had been closed since the 1930s.-- "Could oysters be used to clean up Chesapeake Bay," ScienceDaily
Forget said the intensive growing and harvesting has further improved the river’s cleanliness because oysters are “amazing filtering systems.” The more oysters in the water, the more nitrogen, phosphorus and other pollutants are removed.
The rub is that more oysters in the water also mean more activity. A cage may require tending a dozen times in the two years it can take for an oyster to grow to market size. Multiply that by thousands of cages across the estuary, and the likelihood of pushback from waterfront residents increases.
At a meeting last month organized by the Cavalier Park-Bay Colony Community League, Stephen Jones carried blown-up photos of Little Neck Creek through the crowd while his wife, Millie, explained. There were eight to 10 recreational water activities under way at the same time, she said.In this particular case, the oyster farmer proposes growing oysters wild, not in cages, and more traditional and unobtrusive harvesting, without the aesthetic negatives associated with traditional oyster aquaculture.
“Look how wide of an area these people need,” she said, adding that she and her husband go out boating with their grandchildren in tow in innertubes. “You can’t very well go tubing if you’ve got all these channels you have to understand” because of markers for oyster farms.
Of the 61 acres Ludford wants to work in Little Neck Creek, she said: “Let’s let the humans have that, let’s let the families, let them enjoy that. Let’s make that permanent, set aside as recreational water use.”
The conflict is similar to others in agriculture, such as in Baltimore County where residents oppose agricultural food production on farms ("Prigel Family Creamery in Long Green Valley does it all," Balltimore Sun and sue claiming such uses aren't authorized by agriculture zoning or by agricultural easements, or opposition elsewhere in Virginia to the use as event spaces of vineyards, which adds traffic and other spillover effects that nonfarm residents resent ("Ballards Mill Road residents raise concerns about farm winery).
Ironically, the farms fighting various lawsuits in Baltimore County are located in what the county has designated as the rural section of the county, where agriculture is supposed to be preferenced over residential and other commercial development.