Getting Started

Thank you for your interest in Shellfish Aquaculture in Maryland. Though shellfish aquaculture and the granting of shellfish leases in Maryland dates back to the nineteenth century, renewed focus on the industry after a lull in the program led the Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin jointly accepting applications for new commercial shellfish aquaculture projects in the Chesapeake Bay, its tributaries and the Coastal Bays in October 2010. Following the passage of new legislation during the 2011 Legislative Session and related regulations, the joint application was revised to allow for leasing in oyster sanctuaries as well as the use of cages and float structures on water column leases.
The most current version of the commercial shellfish lease application and instructions documents are available here and on the Fisheries Forms page for download and printing. You may also contact our office to request that a copy be mailed to you. The previous version of the application will no longer be accepted after May 15, 2017.

In order to facilitate a more streamlined application review process, the department recommends that lease applicants take the following steps prior to submitting an application.

1. Utilize the department’s Aquaculture Siting Tool, an online interactive mapping utility that can assist interested parties in identifying potential lease locations by minimizing known resource and other types of conflicts. Just prior to submitting an application, one can generate printable maps, identify corner coordinates and calculate total area for a proposed lease using this tool.
2. Investigate one or more prospective lease locations by boat and record accurate corner coordinates using a GPS unit. Make a note of the depths both at low and high tide, bottom type, boating traffic, adjacent residential use, and other ongoing recreational and commercial uses in and near the area to inform yourself about the site and its potential for commercial use.
3. Review the regional conditions for new and existing commercial shellfish aquaculture activities in Maryland tidal waters specified by the United States Army Corps of Engineers' Nationwide Per​mit-48 to ensure that your proposed project will meet Federal permitting guidelines. The Nationwide Permit-48 replaced the expiring Regional General Permit-1 and became effective in Maryland waters as of Aug. 16, 2016 for commercial aquaculture activities.​
4. If need be, contact the Aquaculture Division to discuss your proposed project. Staff will be able to help you determine if the proposed site meets statutory requirements but cannot recommend or choose a site for the applicant. If necessary, arrangements can be made to schedule an in-person meeting at the Tawes Building in Annapolis. Meetings are by appointment only.
5. Mark the center of your proposed area with a stake just prior to submitting the application.
6. Discuss your project with landowners adjacent to the proposed site. All adjacent landowners will receive direct notice of the project via state and federal notification processes. The department encourages applicants to talk with landowners and answer questions prior to these notices being issued. This will help to alleviate concerns and foster a better understanding of the commercial shellfish aquaculture activities associated with the project. It may also uncover additional issues to consider, such as licensed shoreline or offshore blinds used for waterfowl hunting, not readily visible during your on-site investigation.