As the state Senate oyster mariculture bill is now in the state House, thanks to a 102-60 vote late Tuesday afternoon, the House oyster mariculture bill now heads to the Senate, despite significant opposition.
“This bill creates an entire new industry in Georgia — the mariculture of shellfish, or, the farming of oysters,” said state Rep. Jesse Petrea, R-Savannah, the bill’s lead sponsor. “In Georgia we have about a $1.7 million industry today in wild harvest of oysters and clams, but we do not have the ability today to farm oysters. This bill, very simply, creates the ability for people to farm oysters in the subtidal zones of our estuaries in cages that they will float off the bottom in leased areas off our estuaries that will be determined by the department. It allows a lottery system, where we approve of vetted individuals that will compete for those leases to grow oysters.”
Petrea said the leases would go through a lottery system to make sure Georgia residents and those who already have experience have the opportunity and access to the farming, and that it’s not dominated by large companies from out of state that could outbid local people.
State Rep. Jeff Jones, R-St. Simons Island, said the language in the bill puts him in an unusual position.
“For those of you who have heard me talk about oysters, actually since June of 2018, I have been a vocal, avid enthusiast about the need for us to grow an oyster industry in this state,” Jones said. “Quite frankly, we have dinked around with this issue for the last 15 years, and we have not yet actually got to the point where we have legislation or rules and regulations in place that will allow or promote oyster mariculture.”
He said he immersed himself in the topic following a conversation with former News reporter Tyler Jones on the possibility of legalizing oyster farming in the state, and came to the conclusion that legalization was a no-brainer. But, Jeff Jones said that this bill goes in the wrong direction in a number of areas, including the lack of a guaranteed 12-month harvest under most conditions.
“I can say unequivocally that the bill, H.B. 501, and its companion coming out of the Senate, S.B. 182, do not have industry support,” Jones said. “Those two bills do not have the support of the environmental community.
“Those bills are not good bills, and in fact if we pass that — what I call bad legislation, with so many problems inherent to that legislation — the opportunity for us to open up that code section at a later date is going to be very, very difficult.”
Jones filed H.B. 565 Monday, which he said contains the specifics that should have been in H.B. 501, and was told by people in the industry that they’d rather not see anything pass this year — if it was to be H.B. 501 or S.B. 182 — and instead take another look and pursue a different path with better legislation at another time.
“What we propose in H.B. 565 is that we follow the National Shellfish Sanitary Program standards which dictate time and temperature harvesting, such that when we harvest oysters in a 12-month-a-year operation, we do so, so that those oysters are brought safely to the market,” Jones said.
In other House environmental legislation, the House Natural Resources and Environment Committee passed for the second time H.B. 382, which sets out who can apply for and receive money generated through the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. It was sent back by the House Rules Committee for revision.
“This committee substitute maintains the previous changes that y’all approved in the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act we covered last meeting,” said state House Majority Leader John Burns, R-Newington. “The only additional change we’re offering in this substitute appears on lines 21-24. Now, this change simply makes it abundantly clear that all of the entities listed in lines 12-14 can actually apply for grants to support local parks and trails.
“Prior to this change, such grants were inadvertently restricted to local governments in these lines. This change makes clear that local governments, state agencies and nongovernmental entities are eligible to apply. That’s what we intended — we’re just making sure it’s abundantly clear and everything matches.”
The committee unanimously approved the bill and it heads back to House Rules.