The Army Corps of Engineers has determined that no future in-water aquaculture tests may take place with the Suminoe oyster without a permit from the Corps.

After a review of the situation, Corps officials determined that the oyster aquaculture projects that have taken place in Virginia the past two years should have had a permit because they required placing permanent structures in the water to hold the oysters.

Under Section 10 of the River and Harbors Act of 1899, the Corps must authorize the placement of in-water structures, such as piers.

Although the Corps is not taking any action about the past activities, regulatory officials recently met with staff from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which had approved the past projects, to inform them of the requirement.

The Corps’ decision means that if the VMRC approves further in-water use of the oysters this year, the action would still need a permit that would be subject to public comment and an environmental assessment.

Peter Kube, of the regulatory section of the Corps’ Norfolk District, said the assessment would not be limited to looking at the impact of the structure, but also the oysters being placed in the water. “If it’s a bunch of ariakensis oysters, the review would be a little more detailed than for a pier,” he said.

Kube said the Corps would likely coordinate its review with a special Bay Program panel that is formed whenever there is a proposed introduction of a nonnative species or an expansion in the use of a nonnative.

Under the Bay Program’s policy on the introduction of nonnative species, the panel would review the proposal and make recommendations about the introduction within 60 days.

Ultimately, the Corps could choose to issue the permit, refuse the permit, or seek modifications in the design, or perhaps the number of oysters being used.

Kube said it was impossible to say just how long the review would take. “I don’t think we’ve ever reviewed putting out a nonnative oyster,” he said. But he added it was likely that if a request was made in the spring, a permit could be issued in the fall.