One potential impediment to the continued growth of the aquaculture industry in Virginia is the current management framework associated with the use of the public Baylor Grounds. Virginia’s constitution provides, in part, that the “natural oyster beds, rocks, and shoals in the waters of the Commonwealth shall not be leased, rented, or sold but shall be held in trust for the benefit of the people of the Commonwealth.” Originally, oyster beds in the Chesapeake Bay (the “Bay”) were so plentiful that “oyster reefs rose so high that they grazed the bottoms of boats sailing the Bay.” By the late 19th century, however, vast areas in the Bay were depleted due to overharvesting and habitat destruction. In response, these overharvested areas were designated for commercial use to encourage shell and habitat restoration. The result yielded the separate designation of Virginia’s public lands in 1894 with the Baylor Grounds survey.
This hand-mapped survey specifically determined the naturally productive oyster beds, rocks, and shoals of Virginia. The naturally productive bottomlands were excluded so “individuals would have an incentive to restock the barren sites for private use without closing productive sites that watermen could continue to harvest.” The ultimate result yielded 232,016 acres of designated natural reproductive beds, open only to public use as designated by Article XI in Virginia’s Constitution. While the original intent was to incentivize the resupplying of the specific areas open to private use in 1894, a great deal of change has occurred in the productivity of the bottom beds of Virginia in the 125 years since the original survey. Furthermore, these historic lines have rarely been modified, despite the fact that Virginia has considered future expansion into portions of the public Baylor Grounds.
Essentially, a general lack of productivity is prevalent throughout the natural oyster beds of the public Baylor Grounds. There are areas, for example, that lack the appropriate substrate to make them suitable for natural oyster production or restoration, where intensive commercial aquaculture could make these areas more productive. Therefore, this paper will identify potential advantages of expanding aquaculture production by either allowing alternative intensive uses of the Baylor Grounds and/or redrawing the boundaries of the public grounds.
This abstract has been taken from the author's introduction.
Grau, Geoffrey, "Shellfish Production in Virginia: Public Grounds" (2019). Virginia Coastal Policy Center. 78.