The operation of an aquaculture business can include various forms of gear which can be made in-house or purchased from a vendor.  There are many considerations when selecting gear and one of the most important is understanding what additional permits may be required.


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

  1. Species
  2. Location
  3. Any existing infrastructure
  4. Available capital
  5. Market
  6. Production plan
  7. 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


Protective Structures

Protective structures, such as cages, bags, racks, and trays can be used for the growout of shellfish. These structures, or combination of structures, can be situated on the bottom of the waterbed, suspended off the bottom, or float at the surface. There are requirements on the size, material type (non toxic) and placement of protective structures which can be found in  VMRC General Permit #4.

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  structures 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 oyster gear types / performance / selection:

Shellfish Nursery System

Shellfish upwellers are  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. Upwellers house and protect young shellfish and provide a constant supply of natural food and nutrients through the pumping of ambient water.  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. Floating upwellers require approval through the Joint Permit Application. Land-based upwellers may require a permit with the local zoning board.  

Harvest Gear -Dredging

 If Aquaculture products are harvested by a dredge or hand scrape, the harvester must first obtain a dredge permit from the area Marine Police Officer assigned to that specific district. There is no charge for the dredge permit and Commercial Gear license is NOT required for the harvest aquaculture products. Before dredging, the area must be marked.

Tumbling and Sorting

During the nursery and growout process and at harvest, shellfish will need to be sorted by size and cleaned.  There are a variety of sorters and tumbler options but whether by hand or by machine, it is helpful to remove biofouling, to sort shellfish by size, and to cull out small shellfish and shell.  It is important to note that using this gear for post-harvest activities (cleaning, sorting) requires using water from an approved source (approved growing area, potable water) for washing and providing overhead cover.  Consult the Virginia Department of Health section for more information on the National Shellfish Sanitation Program Model Ordinance.  

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 and keep adequate water flow (for food and oxygen) to shellfish.  If possible, the biofouling removed from gear should not be returned back to the water.  Cycling the gear on land to allow the  drying/desiccation of biofouling is a best management practice to limit the nutrient input (nitrogen and phosphorus) going back into the local water systems.  Although a best practice, it is understood it is not always possible/practical based on the operation.

  • For more information on types of biofouling and controls, check out the Biofouling Control Strategies Handbook – developed for Maryland, but relevant to Virginia
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