Industrial-scale oyster farm bill left for dead in the House

By on June 15, 2018

(N.C. Department of Environmental Quality)

Friday June 15, 9:45 p.m.: House Bill 361 appears to be a dead issue, after the state House failed to move on the final day legislative leaders set as a deadline for public bills to be acted upon this year.

The conference committee report was approved by the Senate earlier in the day on a vote along party lines, with one Democrat voting in favor.

The General Assembly plans to work for one more week, but only potential Constitutional amendments and local bills that are considered “non-controversial”.

Monday, June 11, 7:45 p.m.: The House voted 113-0 not to concur with the changes to H361 made by the Senate, sending the bill to a conference committee to work out the differences the chambers have with the measure.

Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan, voted not to concur. Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, missed Monday’s session for an excused absence.

Thursday, June 7, 7 p.m.: The Senate passed H361 by a 34-13 vote split down party lines, with the Republican-majority voting yes, including Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort.

A procedural move in the state Senate has made it easier for a proposal to pass that revamps oyster farming in North Carolina and could lead to a shift from a cottage industry to marine industrial operations owned by nonresident corporations.

Following stiff opposition from recreational and commercial fishing advocates at a committee meeting last month, the bill’s sponsors may have found a way to get the measure passed before the short session comes to a rapid conclusion.

Senate Bill 738 was proposed by Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, and Sen. Norm Sanderson, R-Pamlico, and amends the state’s oyster aquaculture statutes enacted in 2017.

Their proposal would remove the requirement that lease-holders be North Carolina residents, and would allow individuals or companies to own up to a total of 300 acres in water column/bottom leases. Now, individual leases can range from .5 acre to 10 acres.

Oyster aquaculture consists of suspending bags or cages of oysters in the water column while they grow to an acceptable size. Traditional oyster leases involve leasing the bottom and planting oyster shells to attract spat — baby oysters.

In a rare instance of unity, the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA) and commercial fishermen attended the meeting to voice objections to lifting the residency requirement and the increase in total leases.

A companion bill, H1024 filed by Rep. Beverly Boswell, R-Dare, Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, Rep. Phil Shepard, R-Onslow, and Rep. Mike Speciale, R-Craven, has yet to be moved on in the House Finance Committee.

On June 6, S738 was all but abandoned and the entire proposal replaced the text of House Bill 361.

H361 originally would have added the Coastal Crescent Trail to the Mountains-to-Sea State Park Trail, and was approved by the House last year. It has since been sitting idle in the Senate.

Now that Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed the state budget approved on May 31, the Republican-led legislature will be able to override the veto, and then have nothing preventing them from sprinting to finish the 2018 short session.

By putting the shellfish language in a bill that has already cleared the House, that meant it only needed to get through the committee review process in the Senate.

Now known as the Support Shellfish Industry bill, H361 puts the state residency requirement back into the bill but with several caveats.

Corporations would have to be chartered in North Carolina; individuals must reside in the state for at least 60 days for applying for a lease.

The size of individual leases is changed to allow leases from .5 acre to 10 acres in Core Sound and .5 acre to 50 acres in the remainder of the coastal waters.

Total number of acres held in leases by an individual could be up to 50 acres in Core Sound and 300 in other coastal waters.

The bill also proposed moratoriums on shellfish leasing in New Hanover County and Bogue Sound until 2020 to allow time to designate areas for leasing with minimal conflicts with other uses.

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  • Myron A Smith

    Thanks to Representative from Coastal areas that supported!

    Friday, Jun 8 @ 5:35 pm
  • OBX Resident

    Money talks, and controls the political puppets.

    How many 300 acre leases is Cooke Seafood going to be able to have? What does the public get in return for the leases? This stinks of bad seafood.

    I have an image of the puppet Bill Cook being controlled by Jordan Hennessy, and the puppet of Jordan H. being controlled by Cooke Seafood.

    Friday, Jun 8 @ 5:49 pm
  • Windy Bill

    Cooke Seafood was fined in Canada for using a banned substance to help their farmed salmon grow faster. The substance has not yet been banned in the US. It does kill shrimp (and lobsters). Is this substance something we can look forward to in the sound? That would be a shame cause I like our local shrimp.

    Sunday, Jun 10 @ 4:49 pm
  • MT Beatty

    You guys must be friends of Mrs. Ross. I do not see any reference to Cooke Seafood in this article. Perhaps you guys could re-read the article and make some comments regarding the facts listed.

    Friday, Jun 15 @ 11:01 am
  • True native

    This has Cooke Seafood all over it ! Trust me

    Saturday, Jun 16 @ 6:37 pm
  • Manteoer

    They are residents now are they. Look the politicans are sellin the locals out. If I had a company I sure wouldn’t sell it to someone from another country. Doing that isn’t gonna make America great again !! NOW IS IT. I dare someone to argue that with me.

    Saturday, Jun 16 @ 10:18 pm
  • Sean

    Let’s cooke is mentioned in the article because that is why that bill was wrote you didn’t comprehend what you wrote

    Sunday, Jun 17 @ 6:58 am
  • Sean

    Let’s make America great again. By selling out our natural resources. If someone is to hold a 300 acre lease then the should be Carolinian and Carolinians only

    Sunday, Jun 17 @ 7:02 am