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ANNAPOLIS (Jan. 29, 2010) - Raymond Combs and his family have been trying to get permits to raise oysters for the last three years.
They started growing a few oysters in a tributary near their home in Hollywood and would eventually like to have at least a 5-acre aquaculture site. But their plan stalled when they learned that just applying for an aquaculture permit is $750, and the application and impact fees could total $90,000.
Combs was one of a handful of people who testified Thursday in support of a bill that would suspend Maryland Department of the Environment application and impact fees for commercial aquaculture -- at least for a few years.
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier, D-Baltimore County, who said the fees can stop the very people the state hopes to encourage.
Aquaculture involves growing and farming seafood -- like oysters -- as opposed to harvesting from the wild. Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposed Oyster Restoration Plan encourages aquaculture, and Klausmeier said getting rid of the application fees would help.
"We're doing all we can to encourage (aquaculture)," said Klausmeier, a member of the state Aquaculture Coordinating Council, a group comprised of legislators, scientists, industry representatives and others.
The fees were enacted with construction of piers and docks in mind, said Don Webster, chairman of the council and a regional extension specialist with the University of Maryland's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. But they also are being applied to the handful of aquaculture applications per year.
Fees "ought to be as low as possible" for aquaculture, Webster said, because "this is a new and potentially risky business."
It takes two to three years for oysters to grow large enough to sell, Webster said.
Combs' son, Raymond Combs Jr., said it would take four to six years for the family's planned business to break even, because of the fees.
Jon Farrington produces seed oysters on the Patuxent River in Calvert County. He said the application fee may not be a problem for someone "with deep pockets," but for a waterman looking to transition to aquaculture, it would be prohibitive.
Though aquaculture is prevalent in other areas, it is not widespread in Maryland.
The Maryland Department of the Environment has only received about a dozen aquaculture permit applications over the past few years, said Jay Sakai, director of the Water Management Administration for the department. Still, the department must go through a permitting process for each application, Sakai said, so if the industry picks up, the costs to the department could become problematic.
A proposed amendment to the bill would send the fee waiver to the Aquaculture Coordinating Council for review in three years, so the council could determine whether it still made sense to exempt aquaculture from the fee requirements, Webster said.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.