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Honorable Mark Sanford

Representing the 1st District of South Carolina

Sanford Introduces Shellfish Aquaculture Improvement Act

Mar 1, 2018
Press Release
Legislation seeks to modernize regulatory requirement on shellfish farmers

WASHINGTON, DC - Representative Mark Sanford has introduced H.R. 5061, the Shellfish Aquaculture Improvement Act of 2018, which would ease a regulatory requirement on our nation’s aquaculture workers. Simply, it would exempt them from having to carry multiple forms of insurance.

“When the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 passed Congress, the aquaculture industry didn’t even exist,” said Sanford. “Indeed, when drafted, the Act was intended to support a robust US maritime industry that could augment the US Navy, if needed. Yet, the same rules and regulations drafted about a century ago still apply today to an oyster farmer on a 14-foot skiff. This bill will help local shellfish farmers here in the Lowcountry, as their industry and the demand for their oysters continues to grow.” 

“The Merchant Marine Act was never intended to apply to aquaculture workers in state waters,” said Bob Rheault, the Executive Director of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association. “By clarifying our status, this Act will allow thousands of shellfish farmers to protect their workers with affordable state workers' compensation coverage, saving them thousands each year. Shellfish aquaculture is $500M industry nationwide and the fastest growing sector of agriculture in the US today. Oyster production on the East Coast has doubled in just the past five years, and the future for South Carolina's oyster industry looks very bright.” 

“The Merchant Marine Act was created a long time ago to protect merchant seaman,” said Frank Roberts of Lady’s Island Oyster Company. “We are inshore aquaculture farmers. This bill provides relief from a huge financial burden felt along our inshore working waterfronts, particularly for South Carolina and our emerging oyster and clam industry.”

Shellfish aquaculture is a near-shore, water-dependent, farming operation that is normally conducted solely within state waters. Congress correctly recognized this and specifically excluded aquaculture workers from carrying insurance required under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act. These activities have no relevance to the Merchant Marine Act’s original national security and coastal commerce intent.

The Shellfish Aquaculture Improvement Act seeks the same exclusion from the Merchant Marine Act so that aquaculture farmers can cover employees under state workers’ compensation insurance instead.