Subject: ACTION ALERT: Virginians - Support Aquaculture Bill Today

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Protect Aquaculture in Virginia
Call or Email Your State Rep to Show Your Support
Dear Friend,

Virginia House Bill 1387 (HB 1387) was re-introduced by Delegate Nick Freitas to make it crystal clear that aquaculture is an agricultural activity under Virginia law. The legislation seeks not only to protect aquaculture in any zone that allows production agriculture but also to preserve the use of property for aquaculture that began prior to any change in zoning that later disallows production agriculture.

Please contact your Virginia State Delegate and urge him or her to vote YES on HB 1387. See action steps and talking points below.

Please pass this alert on and ask others to do the same.


Virginians: Please take action as soon as possible because this bill could move quickly. It has already been assigned to the Virginia House of Delegates Cities Counties and Towns subcommittee #2, which meets this Thursday, Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. 

Please contact your State Delegate and urge him or her to vote YES on HB 1387: Zoning; aquaculture in agricultural zone, preexisting use.

Remember, calls are far more effective than emails, and they can take just a couple of minutes! Keep your calls short, polite, and clear. If you send an email, be sure to add a couple of sentences about your situation at the beginning to personalize it.

If you don’t know who represents you, go to
  • Sustainable aquaculture should be protected from overzealous zoning boards. York County is a prime example of what can go awry when the law can be skirted by a calculated zoning change.
  • Protecting aquaculture creates jobs and keeps more dollars in the local economy.
  • The shellfish aquaculture farmers in Virginia are environmental stewards of the Chesapeake waterways and are crucial to preserving and renewing the habitat for fish and crabs for which Virginia is renowned. For example, oysters naturally improve water quality by removing nitrogen and phosphorus and thereby countering algae bloom fed by the run-off.
  • Shellfish aquaculture is a regulated industry monitored in Virginia by the Marine Resources Commission (MRC) and, as such, oyster farmers and other seafood cultivators are conscientious in complying with the various requirements. A forced shutdown because of local zoning changes is unjustifiable and injurious to the producer as well as the consumers who seek the aquacultural products and results in a setback for the environment.

The bill summary as introduced: 
Zoning; aquaculture in agricultural zone; preexisting use. Provides that any aquaculture use that was established on property that was zoned as an agricultural district at the time the use commenced, but later was rezoned to disallow agriculture, is a valid nonconforming use of the property. The bill also provides that language from the Acts of Assembly of 2014 expanding the definition of agricultural products is declaratory of existing law.

For the history and full text of the bill, go HERE.

Background info: 
While Virginia's aquaculture shellfish industry continues to grow and the Virginia Marine Resources Commission (MRC) strongly encourages gardening and farming of oysters and clams, the threat of being shut down through local zoning changes is very real. York County zoning officials have pursued two Virginia oyster farmers, Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso, through the courts to shutter them. Though both won their cases in the county circuit court, the York County Board of Supervisors successfully appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court, claiming that the oyster farmers were required to have a special use permit from the county in order to operate oyster farms at their residences which were zoned agricultural. When Bavuso then applied for the permit, the county refused to issue one.

Passage of the current legislation is imperative to protect Virginia's aquacultural heritage. A bill passed in 2014 clarified that Virginia law recognized aquaculture as an agricultural activity. In response, York County zoning officials quickly changed the zoning to prohibit agriculture at York Point which includes Bavuso's neighborhood. Like many oyster farmers, Bavuso holds licenses issued by the Virginia MRC for "bottom shellfish aquaculture" on state-owned bottomland beneath tidal waters adjacent to his waterfront residence. He uses his land for storing oyster cages and other equipment related to his business, growing seed oysters, docking his workboat at his pier, and offloading harvested oysters for transport to market.
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