Beginning in the 1970s and 1980s, states responded to mounting land use conflicts by enacting Right-to-Farm or “RTF” laws. These laws serve to protect farmers and other agricultural producers by shielding their operations from nuisance suits. Virginia’s RTF law has helped to resolve land use conflicts and has helped to protect an agricultural industry that is both culturally and economically vital to the state.
Commercial shellfish activity has also historically proven vital to Virginia’s unique coastal identity and economy. Further, over the last several decades, Virginia’s diverse aquaculture industry has grown, making Virginia one of the leading producers of aquacultural products in the United States. Despite its mighty contributions, aquaculture has yet to be included under Virginia’s RTF law and producers have not enjoyed its protections while facing scrutiny from private landowners and local authorities. As Virginia's coastal regions continue to experience a population increase and waves of development, the likelihood of land use conflicts related to aquaculture activities is only increasing.
Other states -- such as neighboring Maryland and fellow aquaculture leader Washington State -- have moved to either include aquaculture under their RTF law or offer the industry similar levels of statutory protection via other provisions. These approaches suggest that extending RTF-type protections to the aquaculture industry in Virginia would not only benefit the industry - it is also possible. A combination of the following five solutions may offer a path towards resolution of land use conflicts. Some of these solutions may be combined, while others may be necessarily mutually exclusive. Each also presents unique challenges and considerations. As Virginia’s aquaculture industry, state regulators, and other stakeholders search for a solution to land use conflict, strategies that are inspired by these ideas may offer the best chance at coexistence and collaboration:
- Including aquaculture under Virginia’s RTF law
- Developing aquaculture-specific “Best Management Practices”
- Revamping aquaculture zoning, leasing, and permitting processes
- Increasing public education, outreach, and communication
- Developing an independent “Right-to-Aquaculture” law
Woodward, Matt and Corso, Andrew, "Law on the Half Shell: Applying a Right-to-Farm Framework to Virginia's Aquaculture Industry" (2020). Virginia Coastal Policy Center. 76.