What laws and regulations apply to ocean farming in South Carolina?

Answer: Navigating the permitting and licensing process for marine aquaculture can be confusing, as there are regulations from federal, state, and sometimes local agencies. For South Carolina, in general, you’ll have to obtain permits and/or follow guidelines and regulations from at least three entities: The U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), and South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. These cover regulations that relate to tidal and intertidal waters use (floating gear, aids to navigation, etc.), licensing, and food safety/water quality. In addition to permits, you’ll need to have food safety/harvester training mandated by SCDNR.

Some information on the types of permits needed include:

Army Corps of Engineers: permit for setting gear and flotations in public waters. You’ll need a Nationwide, a General, or an Individual Permit. A Nationwide (NWP 40) permit is usually the easiest and most streamlined way to go for marine aquaculture. See Permitting Process to learn more. You can learn more about the Nationwide Permit here.

South Carolina Department of Natural Resources: governs permitting and licensing for shellfish mariculture. Learn more at its Shellfish Culture Permits page.

South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: classifies shellfish harvesting areas based on water quality and classifies areas as approved, conditionally approved, restricted, and prohibited. DHEC-approved harvester education prior to obtaining permit. See Shellfish Monitoring Program Overview and Shellfish Maps.

There are many moving parts in the licensing and permitting process of marine aquaculture. The best way to navigate all the requirements is to have a champion who knows the system and has experience in dealing with commercial aquaculture. I recommend getting in touch with your local SeaGrant educator to help you develop a plan for moving forward. Julie Davis is the SeaGrant contact for your state. Contact her as follows:

SeaGrant
Julie Davis, Living Marine Resources Specialist
18 John Galt Circle
Beaufort, SC 29906
Phone: (843) 473-6026
Julie.Davis@scseagrant.org

As you look into the process of permitting, I also recommend familiarizing yourself with best management practices for marine shellfish and/or seaweed production. Some resources I suggest include:

Kelp Farming Manual

Culturing Oysters in North Carolina

Best Management Practices for the East Coast Shellfish Aquaculture Industry

Bay Scallop Culture

You can find additional information in the Ecological Fisheries and Ocean Farming section of the ATTRA website. Finally, if you’re interested in hearing about a successful commercial fishing enterprise, tune in to ATTRA’s podcast, Sustainable Fisheries, which features Steve Kurian, owner of Wild for Salmon, which directly markets fresh and frozen wild salmon caught in Bristol Bay, Alaska.