The operation of an aquaculture business can include various forms of gear. This gear can be made in-house or purchased from a vendor.


There are initial factors that will guide your gear considerations when starting your operation including:

  1. Location
  2. Any existing infrastructure
  3. Available capital
  4. Market
  5. Production plan
  6. State regulations (permitting, permit costs) *see details under “Protective Structures” below.

After addressing these issues other important factors to consider include:

  1. Cost and life span of your gear
  2. Capacity
  3. Handling
  4. Fouling control
  5. Predation
  6. Storms



To determine what type of boat would work best for the operation of your business, you should consider draft, maneuverability, load limits, and workable deck space. A license is required for any boat that enters a port with any oysters in Virginia for commercial purposes. And, an Oyster Aquaculture Vessel Permit is required to transport workers for cage aquaculture activities.

Shellfish Upwellers

Shellfish upweller systems are gear designed to fast-track small shellfish seed growth by increasing water flow during this intermediate step before they are large enough to be field planted.  Shellfish growers can either choose to purchase larger seed (field-planting size) or buy smaller seed and add a nursery component, such as an upweller. These systems can be deployed on land or in the water Upwellers house and protect young shellfish as they grow, while providing a constant supply of food and nutrients through the constant pumping of water which carries plankton and other nutrients. Floating upwellers require approval through the Joint Permit Application. Land-based upwellers may require a permit with the local zoning board. 

Protective Structures

Protective structures, such as cages, bags, racks, and trays can be used for the growout of your shellfish. These structures, or combination of structures, can be situated on the bottom of the waterbed, suspended off the bottom, or float on the water. Various VMRC regulations require that on-bottom structures, floating containers and on-bottom containers used for relay purposes, and temporary protective enclosures under VMRC General Permit #4 must be nontoxic.

Structures that are no more than 12 inches from the bottom are allowed on your leased grounds without any additional authorizations. If you are using structures greater than 12 inches off the bottom and/or want to mark each structure with a buoy, the Joint Permit Application must be submitted to receive authorization under VMRC’s General Permit #4. And, if you are using floating or suspended structures, or want to place structures on state-owned bottomlands without obtaining an oyster planting ground lease, a Joint Permit Application must be submitted for approval.

More information about the Joint Permit Application is available here


Dredges are towed along the bottom of the waterbed by a boat in order to collect oysters. Dredging typically happens in waters where oysters are grown in the open water without the use of cages or bags. Residents who wish to dredge or scrape for oysters are required to apply in writing to the officer assigned to the district in which you reside. Further, any resident with an oyster planting ground of at least 3 acres must have a permit for each boat used. Before dredging, the area must be marked. Any Virginia resident wanting to dredge or scrape for oysters must apply in writing.

Tumbling and Sorting

During the nursery and growout process and at harvest, shellfish will need to be sorted by size and cleaned. This can be done by hand, for instance on a sorting table, or mechanically for large harvests using a tumbler. There are a variety of sorters and tumbler options but the machines are helpful to remove biofouling, to sort shellfish by size, and  to cull out small shellfish and shell. Adding this equipment is costly and decisions on whether or not to use a tumbler or sorter should be considered in the budget.

Biofouling Control

Biofouling will be an issue that must be addressed regardless of the gear-type chosen. Lots of different types of organisms will attach to your gear and/or  shellfish seed that can affect your operation including seaweed, barnacles, sponges, tunicates, mussels and others. Growers must implement farm management strategies to keep biofouling under control by routinely checking and cleaning gear. Different control methods might include a freshwater soak, air-drying on a warm day for 6-24 hours, or power washing

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