Lease Program Overview

Picture of boat in waterWhat is Shellfish Aquaculture?

Shellfish Cultivation is the equivalent to Shellfish Aquaculture. Local Law 25-2009 defines Shellfish Aquaculture as the controlled, or partially controlled, raising, breeding, growing, and containment of shellfish in any marine hatchery or through on-bottom or off-bottom culture as permitted by the County of Suffolk, New York State Fish and Wildlife Law (N.Y. Environmental Conservation Law Article 11), and other applicable Federal, State and local laws, and regulations.

Shellfish Aquaculture in Suffolk County, New York

The Suffolk County Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay was established by Suffolk County Local Law No. 25-2009 (Chapter 475, Article II of the Suffolk County Code). This program, which provides secure access to marine space for private, commercial shellfish aquaculture has been developed by Suffolk County for publicly-owned underwater lands in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay. Pursuant to Chapter 425, Laws of New York 2004 (2004 Leasing Law), as codified in New York State Environmental Conservation Law §13-0302 , the State of New York ceded title to approximately 100,000 acres of underwater lands in Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay to Suffolk County for the purpose of shellfish cultivation, and authorized the County to prepare, adopt and implement a shellfish aquaculture lease program for this region.

Suffolk County’s authority is limited to the conveyance of underwater land for shellfish cultivation, and does not extend to the regulation of this activity. As such, the County controls: the location of shellfish farms through issuance of leases on underwater land within a formally adopted Shellfish Cultivation Zone; and the extent and intensity of aquaculture use through limits on lease size and number. The 29,969-acre Shellfish Cultivation Zone includes New York State Department of Environmental Conservation-issued Temporary Marine Area Use Assignment locations; historic, private oyster grants; and other contiguous areas where the impacts/conflicts of shellfish aquaculture activities on environmental resources/socio-economic concerns will be minimal. Lease applicants must still obtain all necessary regulatory permits from relevant government agencies for conducting off-bottom and/or on-bottom shellfish culture activities on their leases. In particular, a shellfish culture permit must be obtained from NYSDEC once a lease issued.

In addition to addressing the access needs of existing shellfish aquaculture businesses, the lease program will accommodate growth in the industry. Leases for new shellfish farms will consist of 5- or 10-acre parcels. New shellfish aquaculture leases will be limited to a total of 60 additional acres per year, for a maximum of 600 acres leased by the tenth year of program implementation. Including those participants currently cultivating shellfish in the estuary that will be given the opportunity continue in the program, the maximum area that could be potentially leased during the first 10 years of program implementation is 3,173.5 acres, given the structure of the program and various assumptions. This is less than 2.9% of the area under County lease jurisdiction. The program also provides municipalities, researchers, and not-for-profit entities with the opportunity to obtain non-commercial shellfish cultivation leases for experimental, educational, and shellfish resource restoration purposes.

Implementation of the lease program is expected to increase private investment in shellfish aquaculture businesses, and shellfish farms will be established at secure locations that do not pose conflicts with commercial fishermen and other bay users. This, in turn, will expand the marine-based economy of Suffolk County and create jobs that contribute to the quality of life and sense of place in East End communities.

The production of large numbers of oysters, hard clams and bay scallops in dense populations on shellfish farms will augment the spawning potential of native shellfish populations. The millions of filter feeding bivalves on shellfish farms will also exert a positive influence on water quality by helping to control nutrient cycling and contributing to the prevention of noxious plankton blooms, such as brown tide. These and other ecosystem services associated with shellfish farms are provided on a sustainable basis at little to no cost to the general public.