Shellfish Aquaculture, Farming and Gardening

Aquaculture site in Virginia

The Virginia Marine Resources Commission strongly encourages gardening and farming of oysters and clams.

These shellfish provide important economic and environmental benefits. In fact, a single adult oyster can purge 50 gallons of water a day!  And shellfish gardening and farming reduce harvest pressure on wild stocks, while increasing the overall number of shellfish that help clean the water and serve as habitat for fish and crabs.

Clam and oyster farming, also known as aquaculture, is a booming, multi-million dollar industry in Virginia.  Oyster gardening under private piers and along the shoreline of privately owned waterfront property is becoming increasingly popular among environmentally concerned citizens.

In most cases, permits and/or licenses are necessary to set up shellfish gardens or farms.

This is to help us ensure fair use of the public waterbottoms, reduce potential user conflicts, head off navigation issues, limit the chance contaminated shellfish are mistakenly taken from condemned waterways, and preserve underwater grasses that shelter juvenile fish and crabs from predators.

Our permitting system is formulated around three factors:  Do you intend to sell the shellfish you grow?  Do you intend to grow shellfish in floats or in cages resting on the bottom?  Do you intend to grow shellfish on waterbottoms you lease from the state?

The Department of Health’s Shellfish Sanitation Division identifies both seasonally and permanently condemned waterways. Maps of those condemned areas can be found at:

If you wish to grow shellfish not for sale at your pier in either floats or cages in the riparian area of the shoreline of your waterfront property (not to exceed 160 square feet in area), you must obtain an oyster gardening permit (General Permit #3) from our Habitat Management Division.  There is no cost for this permit.  Regulations and requirements for this activity are found at: oyster gardening regulations and permit form.

Additionally, if you own upland with a minimum of 205 linear feet along a tidal waterway, you may qualify for a riparian oyster ground lease.  More information related to applying for this type of lease may be obtained from the Engineering/Surveying Department (757-247-2225).

If you wish to grow shellfish for sale in cages that extend no more than 12 inches off the bottom on a regular oyster ground lease obtained from the state, you may do so under Habitat Management regulation 4 VAC 20-335-10, with requirements found here

Placement of cages under this regulation must be marked properly with corner markers and signage. In conjunction with the on-bottom regulation, the regulation for marking requirements can be found here

Examples of approved signage can be found here.

If you have a regular oyster ground lease from the state and wish to grow shellfish in cages or containers greater than 12-inches above the bottomlands and/or to be marked on the surface with buoys, you will need a General Permit #4 from our Habitat Management Division under regulations and requirements found here:

For the General Permit # 4, a Joint Permit Application form should be completed and submitted to the Habitat Management Division.

If you wish to grow shellfish for sale in floating cages on the surface above state-owned subaqueous bottomlands, whether you have an oyster ground lease or not, you will need to submit a Joint Permit Application, with a detailed plan of the operation, to our Habitat Management Division.  Additionally, a request to place cage structures upon state-owned subaqueous bottomlands, without an oyster ground lease, also requires the submission of a Joint Permit Application, with a detailed plan of the operation to our Habitat Management Division.  Details can be found at the VMRC web site home page at the Habitat Permits link at

If you have questions on what permit you may require, please contact Ben Stagg of our Engineering/Surveying Department for assistance.  He can be reached at 757-247-2225 or at

If you are interested in how to obtain a new shellfish lease contact Ben Stagg above.  Note also that the Commission has the following web page that lists individuals that are interested in obtaining or selling a shellfish lease using the lease transfer process:  Leases for Sale.  You can find a list of pending shellfish lease applications and associated locations:  Pending Oyster Lease Applications.

Anyone harvesting aquaculture products must have a Commercial Fisherman Registration License (CFRL), Aquaculture Product Owners License, or Aquaculture Harvester License.  Individuals with the Aquaculture Harvester License are not aquaculture product owners. Individuals participating in commercial oyster aquaculture must also pay a Oyster Resource User Fee.

Both CFRL and Aquaculture Product Owners are required to report any harvest through the Fisheries Management Division’s Mandatory Harvest Reporting Program. Regulations and requirements for mandatory harvest reporting can be found at:

Before any shellfish licenses and/or permits can be issued mandatory shellfish harvester training is required of harvesters. Information concerning this training is shown below:

HARVESTERS - Training is required prior to purchasing VMRC shellfish licenses and permits. It can be completed online. Training is free and takes ~45 minutes — 1 hour.

Online link :

For those harvesters who do not yet have a VMRC ID number to use in the online training:
STEP 1. Contact VMRC main office [(757) 247-2127] to receive a VMRC ID number
STEP 2. Use this VMRC ID number to complete the mandatory online harvester course
STEP 3. Upon completion of the course, proceed to a local agent to purchase the permit

If you have questions about the CFRL, or mandatory reporting requirements, please contact Mr. Rob O'Reilly of our Plans and Statistics Department at 757-247-2247 or at Rob .O'

For questions concerning the Aquaculture Product Owners or the Aquaculture Harvester License, please contact Andrew Button of our Repletion Department at: 757-247-2121 or

Our forms can be found here

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Here is other important information concerning shellfish gardening and farming:

The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality has a nice website dedicated to oyster gardening.  It can be found at:

Shellfish gardening and farming, also known as aquaculture, has been recognized by the U. S. Department of Agriculture for the positive impact it has in the Chesapeake Bay for removing nutrients and sediments from the water.

They have added shellfish aquaculture to the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), 2010 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative Program.  Through this program, shellfish aquaculturists can sign up for a program to be paid for gear cycling and best management practices on their farm.

This program is funded by the Virginia Fishery Resource Grant Program, It is conducted in cooperation with 10 Virginia seafood companies and in conjunction with private industry which provided realistic expectations and estimates of expenses.

Alternative Farming Systems Information Center is a website with information and links for aquaculture.

VIMS aquaculture web links.

Farming of some finfish may also be permitted in state waters.

For information on freshwater aquaculture non-shellfish species:

Mr. Ron Southwick (804) 367-1292 at the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF)

For information on saltwater non-shellfish aquaculture species:

Mr. Rob O'Reilly (757) 247-2247 at the Virginia Marine Resources Commission Rob .O'

VMRC Striped Bass Aquaculture Regulation - 4 VAC 20-252-10 et seq., "Pertaining to the Taking of Striped Bass"

The "lead" state agency to promote Virginia aquaculture is the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS).  Mr. T. Robbins Buck (804) 371-6094 is the contact at VDACS for aquaculture information.  


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