Frequently Asked Questions

The following frequently asked questions are intended to provide general information and answer basic questions regarding shellfish aquaculture operations in the State of New Jersey. This information is not intended to provide a complete description of all requirements; any individual or entity seeking to engage in shellfish aquaculture must comply with all requirements specified in the New Jersey statutes, those codified in the New Jersey Administrative Code and with all applicable requirements of the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

General Shellfish

Commercial shellfish aquaculture is the propagation, rearing, and subsequent harvesting of molluscan bivalve shellfish in controlled or selected environments for the purpose of direct or indirect sale to consumers. It also involves the subsequent processing, packaging, and marketing, and shall include, but is not limited to, activities to intervene in the rearing process to increase production such as stocking, feeding, transplanting, and providing for protection from predators. Aquaculture is a water dependent activity.

The principal species of molluscan shellfish grown in New Jersey are hard clams (Mercenaria mercenaria) and eastern oysters (Crassostrea virginica). However, some commercial shellfish growers have also grown or expressed interest in growing surf clams (Spisula solidissima), bay scallops (Argopecten irradians), and blue mussels (Mytilus edulis).

Shellfish License

A commercial shellfish license is required for aquaculture activities on a valid commercial shellfish lease on the Atlantic Coast. A commercial shellfish license is also required for the sale of shellfish products to a certified dealer.

The cost of a commercial shellfish license is dependent upon your residency. For New Jersey residents, the cost is $50.00. For non-New Jersey residents, the cost is $250.00. The cost of the license includes unlimited harvest and the shellfish harvested under the license can only be sold to certified dealers.

Commercial shellfish licenses are valid from January 1st through December 31st. All shellfish licenses must be renewed annually.

A commercial shellfish license can be purchased online, with an approved licensing agent, or at any of the Bureau of Shellfisheries offices. For information concerning commercial shellfish licenses and how to apply, please visit the Bureau of Shellfisheries web page at state.nj.us/dep/fgw/marinelicenses.htm

No, a recreational shellfish license cannot be used for commercial shellfish aquaculture. A recreational shellfish license is intended for harvesting shellfish for personal consumption while a commercial shellfish license is intended for harvesting shellfish to go to the commercial market. For more information regarding a recreational shellfish license, please visit the Bureau of Shellfisheries webpage at state.nj.us/dep/fgw/marinelicenses.htm

Shellfish Lease

A shellfish lease allows a grower exclusive rights to lands under tidal waters of the State for the planting and culture of shellfish. The Atlantic Coast and Delaware Bay Shellfisheries Councils may lease the bottom of tidal waters for shellfish cultivation upon approval from the NJDEP Commissioner. The NJDEP’s  Fish and Wildlife, Bureau of Shellfisheries administers the shellfish leasing program.

Additional information regarding shellfish leases can be found at here. 

For information on how to apply for a shellfish lease visit the Commercial Shellfish Lease page.

New Jersey Shellfisheries Council

The New Jersey Shellfisheries Council (Council) consists of 10 members appointed by the Governor with advice and consent of the New Jersey Senate representing coastal counties along the Atlantic coastal waters of NJ and Delaware Bay. Council members must also be a licensed and practicing shellfishermen active in the industry.

The New Jersey Shellfisheries Council is divided into two distinct sections: the Delaware Bay Section and the Atlantic Coast Section. Information regarding the Council’s public meeting schedule is available here.

Obtaining Out of State Shellfish Seed, Larvae, Broodstock for Aquaculture

No, shellfish seed, larvae, and/or broodstock obtained from a hatchery or nursery solely produced and reared in New Jersey waters for aquaculture would not require authorization from the Bureau of Shellfisheries.

Yes, the placement of shellfish imported from outside of New Jersey into New Jersey waters for aquaculture, and/or restoration and enhancement require prior authorization from the State of New Jersey. An Application for Permission to Import Shellfish form is required to import shellfish from outside New Jersey. The application form and information on how to submit a seed importation request are available here.

Seed means shellfish that have a maximum shell length, when measured across the largest dimension, as follows:

  • Hard clam (Mercenaria mercenaria), equal to or less than one inch (25.4 mm)
  • Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), equal to or less than one and one-half inches (38.1 mm)
  • Blue mussel (Mytilus edulis), equal to or less than one-half inch (12.7 mm)
  • Bay scallop (Argopecten irradians), equal to or less than one-third inch (8.5 mm)
  • Soft clam (Mya arenaria), equal to or less than one-half inch (12.7 mm)
  • Sea scallop (Placopecten magellanicus), equal to or less than two inches (50.8 mm)

For any other shellfish species seed size please contact the NJDEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring at bmwm@dep.nj.gov.

Aquaculture Development Zones

An Aquaculture Development Zone (ADZ) is a portion of the State bottom in the Delaware Bay on which the State has applied for and received most of the permits required for specific shellfish aquaculture activities. This management system attempts to minimize environmental, social, and user-group conflicts while increasing efficiency during the permitting process that growers typically are required to navigate. There are three ADZ sites currently in New Jersey: two sites are located offshore in “deep-water” areas, known as ADZ 2 & 3, and one site is located along the nearshore area of the Cape May Peninsula known as ADZ 4.

Water Quality

Shellfish waters are classified by the NJDEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring based on the findings of a sanitary survey and in accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:12-1.3.  The sanitary survey identifies all actual and potential pollution sources and their impacts on a growing area; reviews bacteriological quality of waters in the growing area; analyses meteorological, hydrodynamic, and geographic characteristics of the growing area; evaluates changes in land use and their potential to impact the growing area; evaluates the performance of sewage treatment plants; and looks for any failing septic systems.

The National Shellfish Sanitation Program’s Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish (NSSP Guide), requires sanitary surveys to be reevaluated and updated yearly, reviewed and updated every three years, and repeated every 12 years.  Any area not meeting all criteria for its current classification, due to new or existing pollution sources or degradation of water quality, will be downgraded.  Any upgrade in an area’s classification must be supported by the findings of a sanitary survey.

As outlined in the National Shellfish Sanitation Program’s Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish (NSSP Guide) and N.J.A.C. 7:12, New Jersey classifies marine waters as Approved, Conditionally Approved, Restricted, Conditionally Restricted and Prohibited. These classifications are defined at N.J.A.C. 7:12-1.3.

In accordance with N.J.A.C. 7:12-1.4, the NJDEP can immediately suspend harvest in areas impacted by an intermittent pollution episode or emergency condition when the event has or may have a deleterious impact on public health. The NJDEP can also suspend harvest in any waters that, at the time of sampling, do not meet the standards for the waters’ classification. For more information regarding the shellfish growing water classifications, please see NJDEP Division of Water Monitoring and Standards.

Aquaculture Permitting Process

Licenses and permits are necessary to ensure proper use of the public tidal waters to reduce potential conflicts with resources, resource users, navigation, stakeholder use of waterways, ensuring safe product for consumption, etc.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Office of Aquaculture Coordination provides technical, regulatory, and business development solutions to both current and prospective aquaculturists.

The NJ Department of Environmental is the lead State agency with respect to regulation of aquaculture activities in the waters of the State. Pursuant to N.J.S.A. 50:1-5, the Commissioner of the DEP, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Shellfisheries Council, shall establish appropriate policies for the use of leases in waters of the State. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection is also responsible for shellfish growing water classification, as well as licensing and permitting.

Coastal Permitting and Tidelands Instrument

A coastal permit authorizes the construction or placement of the aquaculture structure, gear and/or equipment within a regulated area, whereas the tidelands instrument authorizes the occupation and/or use of lands that are currently or were formerly flowed by the mean high tide, which are State-owned lands held in trust for the public. Both a coastal permit and Tidelands instrument are required for aquaculture activities. For additional information regarding the NJ Department of Environmental Protection’s Division of Land Resource Protection permitting and Tidelands Management licensing click here.

A coastal permit is valid for five years from the date of issuance. However, a permittee can request a one-time extension for an additional five years. The application requirements for an extension are found at N.J.A.C. 7:7-27.3(b). Please note that the extension request must be received by the Division of Land Resource Protection prior to the permit’s expiration date.
A tidelands license may be issued for a term of seven years for aquaculture activities and is renewable. For more information, please see the policy for aquaculture licenses adopted by the Tidelands Resource Council.

Certified Dealer

A Certified Dealer is a post-harvest wholesale shellfish operation that holds a shellfish certificate from the NJ Department of Health.  A Certified Dealer is authorized to hold, transport, buy, and sell shellfish intrastate or interstate.

For information regarding how to become a certified dealer, please visit nj.gov/health/ceohs/phfpp/.

A Certified Shellfish Dealer is required to have a designated facility with adequate cooler storage capabilities for post-harvest shellfish and seafood Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) training, among other requirements.  The NJ Department of Health requires submission of two forms, the wholesale food and cosmetic license application and the initial shellfish certification application.  These forms are available at nj.gov/health/ceohs/phfpp/

The NJ Department of Health requires Certified Shellfish Dealers to renew their wholesale food and cosmetic license AND their shellfish certification on a yearly basis. The shellfish certification expires on June 30 each year and is dependent upon a satisfactory inspection of the shellfish operation.

Other Commonly Asked Questions

Vibrio are bacterium naturally found in marine environments. Vibrio grow rapidly at warm temperatures, so elevated levels are generally related to water temperature and post-harvest handling practices. Vibrio can cause human illness. Vibrio vulnificus infections occur via wound exposure or consumption of raw or undercooked shellfish, while Vibrio parahaemolyticus infections are only caused via consumption. Vibrio illnesses range in severity. The risk and severity are significantly higher for immunocompromised people with certain health conditions. For additional information concerning Vibrio please visit the Center for Disease Controls and the vibrio webpage.

New Jersey’s Vibrio Control Plan (Plan) contains restrictions on shellfish harvesting and handling and includes best management practices from June 1 – August 31 to minimize the risk of Vibrio illness. The Plan includes program coordination, response to potential outbreak, post-harvest time and temperature controls, hours for subtidal, tide dependent and intertidal harvest, Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP) plan requirements, and best management practices. The requirements set forth in the Plan were created through a coordinated effort of the NJ Department of Environmental Protection and the NJ Department of Health. For the latest plan please visit: Vibrio Control Plan

N.J.S.A. 58:24-7 provides the NJ Department of Environmental Protection the authority to access all places where shellfish are grown, stored, and possessed with intent to distribute or sell. The NJ Department of Environmental Protection recognizes it is important that inspections be conducted at a time and in a manner that does not unduly disrupt operations. Further, in accordance with N.J.S.A. 23:2B-9, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection may inspect required records at a reasonable time. N.J.A.C. 7:12-1.1 incorporates the tenets of these statutes in the rules.

The NSSP’s Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish, Chapter II Risk Assessment and Risk Management @. 03 Annual Assessment of Vibrio vulnificus (Vv) and Vibrio parahaemolyticus (Vp) Illnesses and Shellfish Production (National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) | FDA), requires that the State authority must collect by month and report annually to the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference, the volume of shellfish harvested in the State. The report must contain the volume of shellfish harvested for each species, including, if available, a volume breakdown by utilization type (raw, shucked, and so on). The volume of shellfish harvested in the State is used to calculate the risk per serving associated with Vibrio (Vv or Vp) illness, which is used in determining the effectiveness of the previous year’s Vibrio Control Plan pursuant to Chapter II, @.07 of the National Shellfish Sanitation Program’s Guide for the Control of Molluscan Shellfish (National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP) | FDA).

In addition, the NJDEP’s Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Permit (see N.J.A.C. 7:12-9.15) requires a report be submitted to the Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring of the total quantity(ies) of shellfish, by species, harvested in the most recent calendar year (upon re-application for a Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Permit). The harvest information reported by commercial shellfish aquaculture permittees will help ensure the accuracy and completeness of the shellfish harvest data that is compiled and used to assess risk and protect the public health and safety.

A NJ Department of Environmental Protection commercial shellfish aquaculture permit authorizes the growing of shellfish in waters classified as Approved or Conditionally Approved and harvest for direct marketing. This permit must be applied for on an annual basis and once issued runs from January 1 (or the date of issuance) through December 31 of each year. The permit has no application fee, and the application form is available at nj.gov/dep/bmw/docs/consolidatedapp2017.pdf. For further information, please see N.J.A.C. 7:12-9.15 or contact the NJDEP’s Bureau of Marine Water Monitoring at (609) 748-2000.

It is also recommended that applicants for a NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Permit fill out and submit an Aquatic Farmer License Application as the information contained in this application satisfies the requirements of an Operational Plan required for a NJ Department of Environmental Protection Commercial Shellfish Aquaculture Permit. The Aquatic Farmer License Application form is available at https://jerseyseafood.nj.gov/AFL_OperationalPlan_2016.pdf.

All producers of cultured aquatic stock who anticipate production worth $ 2,500 or more annually need to obtain an Aquatic Farmer License from the NJ Department of Agriculture. It is strongly recommended that all shellfish farmers, even those with lower levels of production, obtain a License. (nj.gov/seafood/aquaculture.html)