Northwest Fisheries Science Center

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Document Type: Chapter or Section
Center: NWFSC
Document ID: 6791
Type of Book: Contract
Section or Chapter Title: Legal aspects of marine farming operations—a game of tournament chess
Book Title: Northwest mariculture laws: papers and presentations from a symposium held at the Law Center, 7 June 1974, Eugene
Series Title: Ocean Resources Law Program
Author: Anthony J. Novotny
Editor: Jon L. Jacobson (Ed.)
Publication Year: 1975
Publisher: Oregon State University Sea Grant College Publication No. ORESU-W-74-005
Pages: 25-30

It would be interesting to speculate about what the status of marine aquaculture would be like in this country today if we had started with the same fervor 100 or more years ago that turned this country into an agricultural giant.  It is hard to imagine a "sea rush" to stake the most desirable claims for water ownership the way we did in the great Oklahoma "land rush."  It is also hard to imagine a "spread" of one million acres—of water—being owned by one conglomerate such as the famous King ranch of Texas.  In fact, it is difficult to comprehend the idea of anyone owning a portion of the sea, large or small. 

The ownership and use of land for agricultural purposes in the United States is based largely on historical precedents.  After all, isn't the right to own land part of the founding documents of this country?  The right to inherit land is established by law.  With some exceptions, we can do with land as we please.  We can cut trees or plant trees, plow or let land lie fallow, or even rent land out to a tenant farmer.  Until recently, you could even get paid by the government if you promised not to make land productive.  If you do not know what to do with your land, there is a large government organization that can muster field forces from Key West to Anchorage to help you get the most productive crops from your land.  There are soil bank programs, irrigation programs, inspection services, and even storage services.  You can lease certain grazing rights on public lands, or bid on harvestable timber.  You can even go out and drive a few stakes in the ground and start extracting any minerals that you might find beneath it.  Agricultural land is bought and sold by the hundreds of thousands of acres each day (with and without the attached crops) with no more thought than if we were buying a load of bananas.  It is sad, but true, that in treating land as a common commodity, we have lost all respect for it. 

But water, especially the sea, is a different story.  The historical precedents are few.  There are many people who own freshwater ponds, man–made and natural, and even some who own entire lakes.  But these are usually self–contained.  Woe be to the man who uses moving water and then allows it to run into another body of water or across other land.  He suffers restrictions and comes under the new regulations that talk about "point sources" and "receiving bodies."

Notes: Ocean Resources Law Program