Oystermen face the hook in Virginia county


TROUBLED WATERS: Anthony Bavuso heads toward his oyster field in the Poquoson River.

By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau

YORKTOWN, Va. — Less than a month after state lawmakers liberalized agriculture and aquaculture laws, a Virginia county wants to reel in two small oyster fishermen and potentially strip farming rights from thousands of local residents.

York County filed an injunction against Greg Garrett and Anthony Bavuso on Friday in the latest effort to shut down their oyster businesses.

To block future aquaculture operations, the county is weighing ordinances that would require special-use permits for oyster farming.

The county crackdown was upheld by the state Supreme Court last year, but the General Assembly last month backed small-scale operators by enacting sweeping right-to-farm legislation — on land and water.

“The county’s response has been to thumb their nose,” Bavuso told Watchdog.org.

Bavuso pays the state $1.25 an acre for the right to farm 34 acres of Poquoson River bottom for oysters. Independently, Bavuso and Garrett each hold nearly a dozen permits and certifications from the state.

York County officials say the oystermen’s odiferous crop poses a nuisance to neighbors. Among a set of proposed regulations, the county said it may consider special-use permits on a case-by-case basis.

Mike Prunty, founder of the American Freedom Project, said officials are overstepping their boundaries in light of new state law.

“It appears to me that the mentality of the Board of Supervisors has evolved to the point of disconnect from the very purpose of the posts which they hold,” Prunty said.

He said the two small-time oyster farmers – whose hauls can run around 5,000 oysters a week — do not present a “demonstrable inconvenience or harm of any kind to their neighbors.”

More broadly, Bavuso says the dispute “is not all about aquaculture — it’s about agriculture.”

Garrett agrees.

“About 5,000 parcels are currently legal for farming. The county could strip them of their rights,” he warned.

“There’s a lot of anxiety from people raising chickens and goats that they could lose their livelihoods,” Bavuso said.

“If York is able to rezone, it will have a domino effect around the state,” he predicted.

Kenric Ward is a national reporter for Watchdog.org and chief of the Virginia Bureau. Contact him at kenric@watchdogvirginia.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward