As interest in shellfish aquaculture grows in the Gulf of Mexico, the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Legal Program and the Louisiana Sea Grant Law & Policy Program have created fact sheets to make information about leasing areas for aquaculture readily available.
The programs researched the submerged lands leasing program in each of the five Gulf states. For each state, the legal team identified the responsible agency, the application process and general regulatory framework. In addition to summarizing the leasing program in each state, the legal team identified the base annual fees (as set forth in law or regulation), when an agency may deviate from that base fee and the method used in calculating such fees when available.
Interest in shellfish aquaculture is growing in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike traditional agriculture, which occurs on private farmland, shellfish farmers grow their crops in public waters or on the public lands underneath. Coastal states own the coastal waters and submerged lands in trust for the public, which has the rights to use these areas for fishing, boating and other purposes. The states’ ownership and responsibilities to the public are drawn from a legal concept referred to as the Public Trust Doctrine.
Because shellfish farms are located on public lands, shellfish farmers need to obtain permission from the state – usually in the form of a lease – to start and operate their farms.
The process for leasing submerged lands varies by state and may involve review by several different state agencies. Some states in the Gulf of Mexico have established procedures for leasing submerged lands for aquaculture. In others, specific provisions are lacking and it is unclear how the general leasing provisions would apply to a shellfish farm.