Commercial Shellfish Harvest


General Information on Commercial Shellfish Harvesting

Shellfish are defined as clams, oysters, mussels, or any bivalve mollusk inhabiting the coastal estuaries, marshes or beaches of coastal Georgia.  Commercial shellfish harvest or culture is only permitted on leases acknowledged and permitted by the State of Georgia.


All shellfish must be harvested between the hours of ½ hour before official sunrise and ½ hour after official sunset and may only be taken by hand or with handheld implements.


Minimum Harvest Sizes:

Eastern Oyster (Crassostrea virginica) – 2 inches, hinge to mouth

Hard Clam (Mercenaria mercenaria) – ¾ inch depth (perpendicular to hinge)

Wild Harvest vs. Mariculture

Wild Harvest

The wild harvest of shellfish is defined as the harvesting of any shellfish that were not grown in confinement. This includes the harvesting of oysters from beds that were cultured or “cultched”. “Cultch” materials and requirements are defined in the Cultch Deployment Policy. State leases authorized in 2020 or later will be held to a cultch requirement of 10 bushels per acre or the quantity of cultch equal to 1/3 of total landings for oysters, whichever is greater. The wild harvest of clams requires populations replenishment at a 2:1 ratio of clam seed planted to marketable clams harvested.


Mariculture activities are defined as the controlled cultivation of shellfish in confinement from seed size until harvest for commercial purpose. This includes any shellfish cultivation that uses bags, cages, coverings, racks, or any other placement of gear that is not considered cultch. State leases designated for mariculture purposes will be held to a minimum production requirement of purchasing a quantity of oyster or clam seed per year, as set by the department. Mariculture activities require a Shellfish Mariculture Permit (SMP) from CRD and approval from the United States Army Corps of Engineers before gear may be placed in the waters of the state.


Mariculture operations will likely require the purchase of shellfish seed. From non-state sources, seed importation must come from an approved list of hatcheries/nurseries. All seed imports must currently be inspected by DNR officials.


Lease Types

All shellfish leases must be approved by the CRD whether they are privately or state-owned. Different lease types authorize the use of different gear types as described below:

Intertidal Leases

Intertidal leases include rights to all unvegetated water bottoms located between MLLW (mean lower low water) and MHHW (mean higher high water). Wild harvest and mariculture are both allowed on intertidal leases, though mariculture activities still require an SMP.  No floating gear will be permitted on intertidal leases according to the Rules of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division Chapter 391-2-4.18 Saltwater Fishing Regulations.

Subtidal Leases

Subtidal leases will be for mariculture purposes only and will therefore require an SMP and approval from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. These leases will authorize the use of floating gear such as floating cages, floating bags, and any other gear that will be contained on the surface of the water. Acceptable areas for subtidal leases are currently being sited through a rigorous vetting process and will soon be made available to the public in a lottery, as required by law, in 2021.

Harvester Types

Master Harvester

The Master Harvester must have an CRD-authorized lease, a Georgia commercial fishing license, and a Georgia commercial fishing vessel license. Master Harvesters are also strongly encouraged to obtain/maintain a Georgia Shellfish Sanitation Certificate, a Georgia Wholesale Fish Dealer License, and a Food Sales Establishment License from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Shellfish harvested in Georgia waters may only be initially tagged and sold by a Master Harvester or Harvesters employed by the respective Master Harvester. The Coastal Resources Division may issue Master Harvester permits and leases for the exclusive right to cultivate and harvest oysters, clams, and/or other approved shellfish in specific tracts of tidal and/or sub-tidal areas in approved waters to individuals or companies. Issuance of a lease depends on the availability of permitted areas, the experience and knowledge of shellfish aquaculture demonstrated by the applicant, and the merits of the applicant’s shellfish management plan. Leases may be terminated if the Master Harvester fails to maintain his on-shore storage and processing facilities, fails to adequately supervise his harvesters, or fails to maintain his shellfish lease area as required by State law. 


At the written request of a Master harvester, and by application to the CRD, the division may grant a harvester permit for the right to harvest shellfish on specified leased shellfish areas. The CRD and the Georgia Department of Agriculture must approve each individual involved in the commercial harvest of shellfish.   The Shellfish Harvester permit will be issued only to individuals working for a Master Harvester. Harvesters are restricted to harvest shellfish from areas leased by the Master Harvester. Harvesters are required to partake in educational training on shellfish harvesting sanitation at the CRD every five years to maintain the educational requirement of the NSSP. Harvesters must maintain a valid Georgia commercial fishing license and, if using a personal watercraft, a valid commercial fishing vessel license. 

Master Harvester permits and Harvester permits will be issued only to legal residents of the United States and shall not be issued to persons who have been convicted three times in the two years immediately preceding the filing of an application for a permit of violations of this Code section, subsection (b) of Code Section 27-4-193, subsections (a) and (b) of Code Section 27-4-195, or Code Section 27-4-199.  

Contact Information:

For questions concerning commercial shellfish operations, please contact the CRD Water Quality and Shellfish Program at (912)264-7218.

For assistance and other questions about the HACCP certification process and obtaining a Georgia Shellfish Sanitation Certificate, a Georgia Wholesale Fish Dealer License, or a Food Sales Establishment License, contact the Seafood Safety Office at the following number:

Georgia Department of Agriculture – Seafood Safety Office


Other Information and Links:

Georgia Department of Agriculture Consumer Safety Division

Phone Number
Toll Free Number
Jesup - Coastal Georgia, District 5
Albany, District 4
Forest Park, District 2
Thomson, District 3
Oakwood - North Georgia, District 1
Atlanta—State Office
800 282-5852