S.C. bill could stop permits for oyster summer harvest

Published: Mar. 29, 2021 at 10:37 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Oyster farming is a growing industry in the state, but one state lawmaker has concerns it is growing too fast without proper regulations.

Sen. Sandy Senn (R-Charleston & Dorchester Counties) filed a bill that would prohibit permits for out-of-season harvesting.

During a Charleston County Legislative Delegation meeting, Senn said she has been getting complaints about floating oyster cages being permitted in certain areas.  She said permits for these operations are popping up a lot more often in areas with high boat traffic.

“We do like this industry. We know that they provide wonderful oysters but despite our attempts to work with them, the applications keep coming in what I consider waters that are not appropriate because too many people enjoy them,” Senn said.

Since 2017, oyster farms have been able to harvest oysters year-round and the mariculture industry has thrived. The floating cages have been a topic of controversy for a long time.

Trey McMillan is the owner of Lowcountry Oyster Company, located in the ACE Basin. He says the bill would tremendously impact his business.

“It’s devastating to our business. No business model sets itself up to have five months of no revenue,” McMillan said. “It’s pretty crucial to have summer harvest to stay in business.”

He says the issue seems to be around the floating cages, but the floating cages are a sustainable way to grow oysters.

“There is an economic impact and eco-friendly impact they have. There are so many benefits to them that far surpass the negatives, " McMillan said. “The negatives being, yes I understand people don’t want to look at them.”

Julie Davis, the president of the SC Shellfish Growers Association, says the bill doesn’t target the concerns Senn has. She says she opposes the bill the way it is written now.

“Getting rid of summer harvest doesn’t make floating cages go away,” Davis said. “There are concerns that I see like better access to knowing when there’s an oyster farm permit application in, and I agree with that. That is something we can work on together.”

In a weekly newsletter to constituents, Senn said the current bill is not a final version and she hopes to meet with stakeholders and work out a compromise.

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