To determine the best location for your operation, you can use VMRC’s Chesapeake Bay Map to identify the location of current oyster grounds leases, pending oyster lease applications, VDH condemnation zones, and other layers. Once your desired location has been identified, you must have a lease or other permission to work the grounds. There are multiple options for obtaining grounds.

  • For currently unoccupied grounds, you must submit an application for oyster planting ground to VMRC’s Habitat Management Division for approval. This form is used to apply for general oyster planning grounds or, if you are a riparian property owner, for riparian planting grounds. To quality for riparian planting grounds, the applicant must own at least 205 feet of shorefront at the low-water mark bordering a body of water in the oyster-growing area. Click here for a comparison of Oyster Ground Lease Types.
  • Another option would be to negotiate with an existing leaseholder to purchase their lease. Again, VMRC would not be involved with the private negotiations. However, VMRC would be involved with the actual transfer of the leased grounds because you and the existing leaseholder must submit a transfer application to VMRC’s Habitat Management Division for approval. VMRC’s website includes information regarding leases for sale, as well as individuals interested in purchasing a lease.
  • Additionally, there is no direct prohibition to sublease from an existing leaseholder. This would involve private negotiations between you and the leaseholder to determine the terms and conditions of the sublease. VMRC would not be involved in these negotiations.

As noted on the Gear and Operations page of this website, 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.


Your leased grounds must be marked according to state regulations: the corners of the lease should be marked with, at most, three markers per corner and the boundary lines of the lease should also be marked at intervals no more than 600 feet and no less than 150 feet apart. There are additional marker requirements for marking active work areas depending on if the area is marked with stakes or buoys.

Marking Areas Under Active Production

Lease areas under active production, whether on-bottom planting or  cages/structures, must have corner markers and in some cases, signage.    The VMRC regulation for marking requirements can be found here: Examples of VMRC-approved signage can be found here. Contact the Engineering/Surveying Department for additional assistance on alternative verbiage for approved signage. 


The application fee for new leases and transfers varies between $300, $500, and $1,000 – depending on the size of the area being leased. There are also fees associated with surveying, re-staking, document copying, and printing maps. And, for regular oyster planting grounds, there is an annual rental fee of $1.50 per acre / per year.  It is important to note the significant financial investment incurred by leaseholders to make leased areas productive.


Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

The term submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) refers to underwater plants found in the shoal areas of the Chesapeake Bay and Virginia’s coastal bays and river tributaries, and primarily consists of eel grass and widgeon grass. The Commonwealth is committed to protecting and restoring SAV because of its importance as a resources and habitat. Since 1984, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) has been mapping SAV annually. SAV beds include all areas of SAV identified and mapped by VIMS at least once within the past 5 years. Areas of potential SAV restoration include all areas of SAV identified and mapped by VIMS at least once within the previous 10 years, as well as any area specifically set aside for SAV restoration or protection by VMRC. These SAV beds and potential SAV restoration areas are included in oyster planting ground maps. VMRC avoids authorizing new activity, authorizing new structures (including aquaculture structures) on unleased bottoms, and leasing oyster planting grounds on any SAV bed. However, activities in SAV beds may be authorized by VMRC permit if they are deemed acceptable and all mitigation measures to reduce the impacts to SAV are considered. You might be required to compensate for SAV losses. The same applies if SAV encroach on leased lands. When SAV beds establish themselves through natural restoration around existing or authorized structures, these structures do not need to be removed, but they cannot be relocated in a manner that would cover SAV beds and the operation cannot be expanded if SAV beds would be covered. 

Shellfish Condemnation Zones

In the interest of protecting public health, the Virginia Department of Health Division of Shellfish Safety (VDH DSS) classifies certain waters as either approved for shellfish harvest or condemned.  The waters in these areas may contain contaminants that could be absorbed by shellfish  grown within them. There are several types of condemnation zones  -those that are completely closed for harvest, and some that allow for harvest seasonally or areas for conditional harvesting. VDH DSS and VMRC provide maps that show impacted areas and VMRC may grant a special permit to harvest (relay permit) from these areas. Please note, in addition to the regular steps that must be taken prior to the marketing and selling of any shellfish products, there are extra steps and waiting periods involved prior to being able to harvest, market, and sell the shellfish product covered by the special permit. 

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