Inland Bay Oyster Farms Are Being Damaged By Boats

Inland Bay Boaters Beware, Oyster Farms Can Destroy Your Lower Unit And You Are Responsible For Farm Damage And Loss

Recently, some of the oyster farms around the Delaware Inland Bays in Rehoboth and Indian River Bay were damaged, most likely by boats or jet skis. These oyster farms are marked with four large corner posts. They are really hard to miss. Large white PVC posts covered in reflective tape, and numbered red signs as required by DNREC. I still wish DNREC would allow lights on these poles. I bet a few boaters do as well. I already know the aqua-farmers would like to mark their leases better and keep the boats away. Boaters are financially responsible for any damages to an oyster farm they cause.

Oyster Farm corner post for farm 22, there is one of these on each corner.

Let me back track a bit. Aqua culture of oysters and clams is now allowed around the inland bays and has been for about two years. Aqua-farmers are leasing the bottom of the bay from DNREC or the State of Delaware to set up their farms. Oysters can only be farmed or grown in Rehoboth and Indian River Bays. Clams can be farmed in all three of the inland bays. Many have set up leases only to drop them due to the amount of money, red tape, and requirements to set up an oyster farm.

This is a great program, I have been watching closely for six plus years. There are currently five to six active farms in our waters. They are marked very well, however, here is the issue for all boaters and the oyster farmers.

Floating oyster cages pushed out of the farm lease due to a boater cutting their craft free.

Boats are allowed to traverse the farms, only between the areas where there are designated “lanes” between leases. The issue is most if not all boaters do not know these lanes exist, or the farms themselves. At one point in a meeting, we all said, wouldn’t it be a good idea not to allow boats to go through a farm. The cages float, there are guide ropes and all kinds of gear to run over or through. Boaters insisted they needed access to all the water on the inland bays … that was a fun meeting (not).
Oyster farmer “We came out to the lease the day after setting up our corner markers, and two jet skis ran our markers like a slalom race, right in front of us”.
Ya’ll need to chill, that oyster farm is someone’s livelihood. If you knew the investment, expenses, and work involved in oyster farming, you would be shocked. It should be just like on land, you don’t just rip a right turn off the highway and go through the nearest corn field. This is the same concept.

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Most of the gear used is floating cages, but eventually the oysters are transferred to cages that sit on the bottom of the bay. Even then, there is gear for boats to run over and get jammed up in as well as damage. These cages can cost over two hundred dollars apiece, even more if they are full of oysters. Most of this damage is occurring at night, boats coming home from a day on the water or whatever watering hole they were visiting. Be careful boating at night, pay attention, get a spot light. Use the DNREC Interactive Shellfish Aquaculture map and mark your GPS. It isn’t rocket science to avoid water hazards, a little common sense goes a long way.

Floating cages torn up and damaged from being hit by a boat or jet ski

If it were me, despite the regulations allowing boats to traverse oyster farms. I would stay out of them for the sake of my motor. Not to mention my wallet from any damage my boat causes. Boaters are responsible for any damage to these farms they cause. You can use the DNREC Interactive Shellfish Aquaculture map to see the lease areas and what are currently being used. These lease areas were set up in areas boats do not need to venture into anyway. That was one of the points of selecting specific areas in all of those loooonnngggg meetings.


Fishing tip, these cages are killer structure and over the years will become great areas to fish, next to the farm not on top of the farm. You thought crab pots were good to fish next to, wait till you fish near an established oyster farm. You didn’t know about crab pots and fishing? Now you do. Pots with fresh bait have more fish near and inside the pot. Flounder sit near them and ambush baitfish, grass shrimp, shrimp, and crabs hiding in the pot and eating the fresh crab bait.

Screen shot of the oyster farm lease areas from the interactive map by DNREC. Active farms are blue squares

The next challenge Inland Bay oyster farmers face is the USDA requiring them to keep birds off these floating cages that are like islands. So how does one keep birds off the floating cages and gear, as well as allow boats to move through that small area of water. Stay tuned, MacGyver is going to have to be consulted on this one. Dave Beebe has a plan and I am dying to see what he comes up with, the birds? Probably not so much. The boaters? I think DNREC shouldn’t allow recreational boaters access to these areas.

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Naturally occurring oysters and Mussels growing under the Lewes Boat Ramp

Back in the day the inland bays had a thriving oyster industry that was wiped out by disease. I am looking forward to this industry being brought back via aquaculture. A single oyster can clean fifty gallons of water every day. Millions growing in the bays will help clean the water and grow delicious oysters. The economic impact for this area is projected to be huge. Please respect the aquaculture lease areas.

As far as running over existing farms. A game locals used to play at the Indian River Yacht club in Riverdale was to watch unsuspecting boats rip across the oyster beds and tear out their wooden hulls. To a standing ovation, then they would go help them. That was way back in the day when a wooden boat cost less than a house. Those beds are long gone, but the memories from many an old salt live on in their stories.

Fish On!
Rich King

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