NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) -- Virginia is setting aside more than 1,000 acres of prime water bottom to promote the farming of oysters and clams.
Called "aquaculture opportunity zones," the 15 areas will be located in the Rappahannock River, in the tributaries of Mobjack Bay and around Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Virginia Marine Resources Commission is expected to approve the new shellfish farming zones at its Jan. 25 meeting.
Under the proposal, the commission will streamline the permitting process and waive the typical fees and related costs, which can range up to $1,000. A one-time application fee of $100 will be levied.
"This is an incredible opportunity," Jack Travelstead, the commission's fisheries chief, said in a statement Wednesday. "Shellfish aquaculture is more dependable than going out and catching oysters, and reduces pressure on our wild stocks."
Two diseases have devastated oyster stocks in the bay.
The zones are located on hard bottom and in clean shallow waters. The bottoms are state-owned.
"These are excellent locations for the farming of oysters and claims in on-bottom cages," Secretary of Natural Resources Doug Domenech said.
The new zones will be divided into 5-acre blocks and assigned on a first-come, first-serve basis, the commission said. Only Virginia residents can apply.