Legislation to simplify the permit process for aquaculture projects such as oyster farms in state waters was approved Thursday by the Senate Economic Growth Committee.

“This measure would provide a one-stop shop for obtaining permits. This is a common-sense way to help business owners and aquatic farmers expand their operations in the state,” said Sen. Jeff Van Drew, D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, the bill’s sponsor.

Currently, applicants must deal with 11 different state agencies and bureaus, each of which have their own requirements, in the application process for starting an aquaculture project, according to State Senate Democrats.

Aquaculture is the farming of fish, mollusks, crustaceans and aquatic plants, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. It involves regular stocking, feeding and protection from predators.

The legislation was developed after legislators heard from aquatic farmers and industry experts at a 1st Legislative District Economic Development Task Force meeting, according to the Democrats.

“New Jersey has the potential to boost its aquaculture industry and to really grow the production of oysters on our coasts — which we know are loved by seafood connoisseurs across the country and around the world,” said Van Drew, chair of the task force.

The bill (S317) would 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 aquaculture permitting review program.

It was approved by a 5-0 vote. It next heads to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee for consideration.

New Jersey focuses on the farming of bivalve shellfish, primarily hard clams and oysters, according to the state Department of Agriculture.

It requires on-shore hatcheries where larvae are spawned and raised, leased grounds within the coastal zone for grow-out; maintenance of gear and shellfish; and harvest once the shellfish reach market size, which can take tow to five years, depending upon species and growing location, according to the department.

The state currently has more than 160 licensed aquatic farmers, according to the Senate Democratic Office.

In 2013, Rutgers University released a survey of oyster farmers in New Jersey. There were 12 oyster farmers, and 11 of them responded. One respondent was located in Cumberland County, six in Cape May County, three in Ocean County and one in Atlantic County.

All together those growers sold 1,492,000 cultivated oysters in 2012. Harvests from individual farms ranged from 2,000 to 780,000 oysters. Eighty-eight percent were sold to wholesale markets and 12 percent to retail outlets, Rutgers said.

Their product had a total sales value of $760,920.

The industry directly supported 14 full-time and 18 part-time employees, Rutgers reported.

Oyster growers in New Jersey had 17,645,000 field-planted oysters. Crop acreage totaled 76.5 acres. The anticipated harvest for 2013 was reported to be 2,655,000 oysters, the survey said.

Contact: 609-272-7219

Twitter @MichelleBPost

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Senior copy editor

Senior copy editor for the Press of Atlantic City. Have worked as a reporter, copy editor and news editor with the paper since 1985. A graduate of the University of Delaware.

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