New regulations worry oyster and clam farmers

Posted: Sunday, December 31, 2000

CORDOVA (AP) -- Oyster and clam farmers are protesting that they don't have enough time to respond to new state regulations.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which is rewriting the regulations, says it had no choice but to act quickly on the matter.

''We were given direction by the Legislature and the attorney general's office to come up with new regulations, and the sooner the better,'' said Ken Imamura, mariculture coordinator for the department.

The new regulations have been fast-tracked to be in place by April, Imamura said.

Prince William Sound oyster farmers said the rush job has left too little time for public comment.

''They are rewriting the Alaska codes regarding permits for shellfish hatcheries and farming and they are only giving us 30 days, the bare, legal minimum time, for comment on the new regulations,'' said Dave Chipman of Cordova, one of roughly a dozen oyster farmers working in Prince William Sound. ''They could give us more time, but they are not going to.''

The proposed new regulations expand the rules of operation for shellfish farmers from four to 25 pages.

''It's a major rewrite, there's no doubt about it,'' Imamura said. ''We're trying to revise our regulations to better reflect the state's position on aquatic farming.''

Imamura said the impetus for the new regulations is growth in applications for permits for ''bottom farming'' of native species, such as geoducks and little neck clams.

The Aquatic Farming Act of 1988, the former mariculture ground rules for Alaska, addresses ''suspended'' mariculture, such as oyster farms where the crop hangs in wire-mesh baskets suspended from lines. The act does not address bottom farming.

''Most of the applications before 1996 were for oysters, which is essentially a non-native species,'' Imamura said.

As new applications for bottom farming of native species came in during the mid-1990s, the department realized it wasn't ready to deal with the new demand.

''We put a moratorium on new permits from 1996 to 1999. Come 1999, we had quite a number of applications for bottom-farming native species and the department determined that we didn't have the tools to regulate it,'' Imamura said.

The new rules are not intended to restrict oyster farmers, he said.

''I can see where an oyster farmer might feel this significantly affects his operation, but that's not the primary intent,'' Imamura said. ''There shouldn't be too much alarm on the part of the suspended culture operator. Oyster farms aren't quite as problematic as bottom culture.''

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