Aquaculture Leasing on State-Owned Aquatic Lands
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Aquaculture Leasing on State-Owned Aquatic Lands 
Oyster Lease 


State-owned aquatic lands are sometimes leased for multiple uses, including, aquaculture. For more than a hundred years, the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and its predecessor has offered leases to support growing oysters, clams, and mussels using a variety of growing methods, including: bottom, bag, intertidal long lines, and floating shellfish rafts. 

Through leases, growers, and the state, generate revenue that supports the local economy, pays for management and restoration of state aquatic lands, and provides nationally recognized abundant seafood.

There are 2,100 acres of state-owned aquatic land under lease for aquaculture, mostly tidelands. About 80 percent of the commercial aquaculture leases are for oyster culture. State leases in Puget Sound, Willapa Bay, and Grays Harbor, are part of a successful industry that provides seafood products for domestic and export markets.

The State Legislature’s policies promote a diverse shellfish farming industry, and DNR’s role is to preserve and enhance water-dependent uses such as aquaculture, and to provide opportunities to utilize renewable resources, including shellfish. Fees are collected to compensate the public for the exclusive nature of the leases, and every effort is made to mitigate the effect of reduced public access across those leased areas. Like other leases of state-owned aquatic lands, aquaculture leases are negotiated based on the direction of the 1984 Aquatic Lands Act to manage the lands and resources in ways that protect the environment while encouraging navigation and other water-dependent uses, renewable resources, and public access—and earn revenue where appropriate.

Funds for Management, Restoration & Local Access Projects
About half of the revenue generated from aquaculture leases is used for management and protection of state-owned aquatic lands statewide, and half is deposited into the Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA). ALEA provides matching funds to help purchase, restore improve, and protect aquatic lands. Matching funds also help build local projects that improve public access to aquatic lands statewide.  

Types of aquaculture
‘Aquaculture’ is the culture or farming of fish, shellfish, and other aquatic plants and animals in fresh, brackish, or salt water areas. Practices may include: hatching, seeding or planting, cultivating, feeding, raising, harvesting of planted crops or of natural crops, and processing. For the purposes of this discussion, the term aquaculture includes cultivating and harvesting shellfish on tidelands, cultivating shellfish on floating rafts, and raising finfish in floating net pens.

Aquaculture Leases
DNR leases state-owned tidelands for cultivation of oysters, clams, and other edible shellfish.  

For geoduck aquaculture leasing, see Geoduck Aquaculture Program

Net Pens & Floating Shellfish Culture
DNR leases deep water sites for finfish net pens and floating shellfish rafts and longlines. Salmon aquaculture operations have existed in Washington since the 1970s and are scattered throughout Puget Sound. Current net pen leases include salmon aquaculture, delayed-release salmon, and herring. The use of floating shellfish culture began in 1975 with mussel raft culture in Penn Cove. Current floating shellfish culture on rafts or longlines include oysters, mussels, and scallops.

How to Lease State Aquatic Lands
Aquaculture leases for state aquatic lands are handled by DNR’s Aquatics Districts. Application materials, general leasing information, and answers to specific questions can be addressed by contacting the appropriate District Region Office

Tribal Shellfish Sharing
Treaties signed with western Washington Indian Tribes in 1854 and 1855 reserved the right for tribes to harvest fish and shellfish from all usual and accustomed fishing areas in common with citizens of Washington. In 1994, Judge Edward Rafeedie upheld the right of Treaty Indian tribes, or their successors in interest, to harvest up to fifty percent of the harvestable surplus of shellfish from natural shellfish beds. To implement the ruling, a procedure for notification of tribes about DNR aquaculture leases and potential harvest agreements on state lands was formalized in an implementation plan. See the State and Tribal Sharing of Shellfish website.

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