Permitting Process Overview

Step 1: Site Review and Consultation

Once you have identified the site you would like to use for your cultivated oyster mariculture (COM) farm or nursery, the first step is to consult with the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) to do an initial review of the site that could help identify red flags that could prevent you from being approved for a permit. This step is optional but strongly encouraged to save you time and money.

At this time, TPWD will check to make sure your site meets minimum requirements:

  • Conditionally approved or approved waters (requirement for farms but not nurseries) Farm boundaries minimum requirements:

    • 200 feet from seagrass habitat

    • 500 feet from wild oyster habitat

    • 2,000 feet from rookeries (bird breeding colonies)

    • 1,000 feet from shoreline (or you have landowner permission to be closer)

    • 1,000 feet from oil and gas infrastructure OR leases

  • No public use conflicts (e.g., popular fishing area, visible nuisance to waterfront property owners)

Please note that TPWD will not approve a farm site or guarantee that your permit will be accepted. This step is intended to identify early red flags before you invest too much time or money in a proposed site.

Step 2: Coordinate with Texas General Land Office

Check with the Texas General Land Office (GLO) to check for existing applications or leases on your proposed farm site. Although not required, this will expedite the GLO leasing process and avoid investing in a site that is unavailable for lease.

You can do a preliminary check for leases or applications on the GLO Land and Lease Viewer, but for the most up-to-date information, email Danielle DeVacque at

Step 3a. Natural Resource Survey

Next, you must do a natural resource survey to create a detailed map and assessment of the habitats on your proposed site. The survey is an intensive process, so TPWD strongly encourages you to do a preliminary field visit first. This can be as simple as taking your boat out and exploring the property, using a pole to feel for oyster beds, seagrass or other barriers that might make you decide you need to move your site. 

Once you’re satisfied with your proposed site boundaries, you should begin your survey. Two types of surveys are allowed in Texas: side-scan sonar and in-situ sampling.

Side-Scan Sonar

This method works best for larger sites (5 – 10 acres) because you don’t have to take as many samples per acre. However, the equipment is more expensive and has seasonal limitations; the technique can only be used for surveys from May 1 to November 30. Sonar surveys must be “ground-truthed” (verified) with in-situ grabs:

  • 16 samples per acre in permit area (usually 69-foot spacing)

  • 9 samples per acre in 200-foot buffer (usually 104-foot spacing)

The State of Texas does allow surveys using recreational sonar. For more information on this topic, please contact Emma Clarkson (

In-Situ Survey

For smaller sites, in-situ (or grab-sample) surveying is more cost effective. It can be performed year-round, making it a good option for winter surveys.

  • 49 samples per acre in permit area (usually 35-foot spacing)

  • 16 samples per acre in 500-foot buffer (usually 69-foot spacing)

All grab samples (for both in-situ surveys as well as ground-truthing sonar surveys) should be collected with a tool that samples a minimum area of 4 to 6 inches (e.g., a 4-inch-diameter PVC pole, a post-holer, etc.).

Required Documents

You must provide the following documents to TPWD:

  • Side-scan sonar images (TIFF format), if applicable

  • Excel or shapefile of sampling locations (GPS coordinates) and substrate description

  • Photos of each sample

  • Word or PDF summary of findings. Briefly describe what you did and what you found.

    • Survey metadata (who, what, where, when, how)

    • Summary of any habitats detected (including the depth of each habitat and percent of samples that contained sensitive habitat)

    • Maps showing site boundaries, buffer zone, and all samples taken

Email to ask for a file-sharing service link to submit survey documents.

What Counts as a Sensitive Habitat?

When you’re looking for sensitive habitats (i.e., those with oysters or seagrass), you may not find live oysters or actively growing seagrass. However, that doesn’t mean you haven’t found oyster or seagrass habitats. At times, the only evidence will be shells or the underground living part of the seagrass plant (the rhizome). Texas uses the following definitions for oyster and seagrass habitats:

Oyster habitat

The presence of live oysters OR the presence of consolidated oyster shell substrates OR shells greater than 25 mm. 

In an in-situ grab-sample survey, this would be any sample that is dominated by shell pieces or contains shell fragments greater than 25 mm. In a side-scan sonar survey, this would be any visible feature where in-situ samples confirm the presence of shell material. You would have to avoid the entire oyster feature using a 500-foot buffer. 

sidescan sonar oysters
Side-scan sonar showing oyster habitat. 
Credit: Emma Clarkson, TPWD

Seagrass habitat

The presence of above-ground or below-ground (rhizome) biomass of any of the five species of seagrasses that occur in Texas. 

In an in-situ grab-sample survey, this would be any sample that has rooted seagrass material. In a side-scan survey, this would be any visible feature that where in-situ grabs confirm the presence of rooted seagrass. You would need to avoid the entire seagrass feature using a 200-foot buffer.

sidescan sonar seagrass
Side-scan sonar showing seagrass.
Credit: Emma Clarkson, TPWD

Step 3b. Texas Parks & Wildlife Department Application

Now that you have completed the natural resource survey, it’s time to start the TPWD application for a cultivated oyster mariculture permit (COMP). This process often involves back-and-forth communication with TPWD as they request clarification or more information. To make that process easier, we have listed below the application questions and what TPWD is looking for in each answer. Once you receive your permit, the answers to this application will serve as your operations plan and guide TPWD’s annual inspections of your COM operation.

TPWD Application Questions

  1. Please describe how the gear presented in the gear table is configured and operated.

    Clearly explain how all gear is connected and operated to assure TPWD that gear is securely attached and marine debris will not be a problem. Detail the number and location of gear (e.g., buoys). TPWD will check for these details on their annual site inspections.

  2. Please describe your proposed tending/maintenance and harvesting activities.

    What will you be doing, when, and how often? This should give TPWD an idea of frequency and intensity of disturbances at site caused by your farming activities. It also shows that you will be properly maintaining gear. You should show that you will comply with the FDA’s desiccation and resubmersion requirements by resubmerging gear for at least two weeks before selling your oysters.

  3. Please describe how gear will be tagged. What material will be used and how will tags be affixed to the gear?

    This answer shows TPWD that you read their requirements and will be tagging gear appropriately. Explain what kind of tags you will be using, how you will waterproof and secure them, and how often you will inspect and replace/maintain tags. TPWD wants to make sure that tags will not come loose and become marine debris.

  4. Please explain your proposed seeding/stocking activities.

    Show TPWD how you will meet the minimum stocking criteria (at least 100,000 seed per acre of COMP).

  5. Please provide the expected source of oyster seed to be cultivated.

    List ALL the hatcheries and/or nurseries you intend to use to purchase seed. If you’re not sure if you will use a certain hatchery, it is better to list it now because if you want to add another hatchery later, you will have to file a permit amendment. Note the region where the broodstock for your seed originated and the ploidy of all incoming seed. TPWD should be able to assess this section to make sure your operation addresses biosecurity concerns.

  6. Please describe your response plan if disease is identified in your farm. What will be done with the oysters?

    TPWD requires you to report diseases within 24 hours of discovery, so this is the place to confirm those plans and who you will notify. Explain what you will do with sick oysters (e.g., depuration, disposal). You cannot put oysters in public waters, so explain your plan for how you will dispose of them in a land-based facility.

  7. Please describe your plans for the sale of your product.

    TPWD needs to know what kind of businesses (i.e., dealers, restaurants) you will be selling oysters to. If you are planning to sell directly to a restaurant, you will need to get an additional Texas Department of State Health Services certification.

  8. How will you access the proposed site? If from the adjacent shore, please describe how you will avoid negative impacts to sensitive shoreline habitats (if present). Please provide an aerial map showing site access as shown in “Site Information – Examples.”

    TPWD staff is making sure that your access route does not disturb nesting birds or sensitive habitats. For instance, you should show that you will avoid walking through seagrass habitats, sensitive wetlands (i.e., marshes or tidal flats) or wild oyster beds.

  9. How will your proposed activities affect ingress and egress of adjacent property owners?

    TPWD wants to ensure that your gear will not block public access to the shoreline for wadefishing or other activities. Additionally, if the site is less than 1000’ from shore, you must show that you have landowner permission for your operation. Although the waters are public, your gear is still private, so although other people are not allowed to touch or interfere with your gear, they can access the site. You cannot put up “No Trespassing” signs.

  10. Please provide details of your hurricane/tropical storm plan. Plan should include management details for the protection of all equipment and oysters within your permitted area beginning 72-hours before projected landfall.

    Be as detailed as possible describing what you will do in the event of a tropical storm. Since your plan should include a tiered response (see Hurricane Preparedness page), be sure to include what events trigger tiers of the plan (e.g., as soon as a tropical storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico, you will begin tier 1).

  11. Please describe any predator or bird deterrents you will use.

    The FDA’s National Shellfish Sanitation Program requires COMs to use bird deterrents as a public health safeguard to minimize feces contaminating oysters. Overhead netting is not allowed.

Maps Required for TPWD Application

Vicinity map

Overhead, “zoomed-out” view showing corner coordinates and location within bay

Access route map

Can be combined with vicinity map. This map shows TPWD that your access plan has no negative impacts to sensitive habitats.

Overhead site layout

“Zoomed-in” view showing details of gear layout within the permitted area. If you repeat the same layout in different sections, you can draw one detailed example of the layout (including spacing) and specify where it will be repeated. TPWD is looking for access lanes so that COM workers or, if applicable, the public can get through the site.

Cross-section site layout

Diagram of gear in all potential configurations (e.g., floating for desiccation, feeding position, sunken for hurricane, etc.). Be sure to note the depth in each position and both high- and low-water lines. Your diagram should show how and wear gear are attached.

Gear Information Required for TPWD Application

The gear table should list all gear you plan to use on the farm. Write the maximum number of each type and describe dimensions, material, etc. If you’re using commercial gear, sending a brochure with the make and model number of each piece you plan to use is a sufficient description. Include photos of all gear types, especially hand-made gear. TPWD will want to see what types of buoys, anchors, chains, and lines (e.g., braided or monofilament) you will use.

COM Permit Application

Step 4. Public Meeting

The law requires TPWD to host a public meeting for residents of the nearest municipality to have the chance to comment on your proposed COM plan. Applicants are required to post (and pay for) a public notice at least two weeks before the meeting. Notices can be in print or electronic format in the daily newspaper of general circulation nearest to the proposed site. TPWD will provide applicants with draft language for the advertisement. You must give TPWD proof (a receipt) of the advertisement.

Next, TPWD will post a meeting link on the TPWD website so that the public can attend via Zoom or in person, where applicable. During the meeting, TPWD will present your operations plan using figures and maps you provided during the application progress. Anyone can request to see your application; TPWD will redact your personal information, but the location of the site and plans for the COM are on public record. 

The public may ask questions and give comments during the meeting. For Zoom meetings, they must submit their official comments via email to TPWD reviews comments and makes decisions on a case-by-case basis.

Step 5. Get Conditional Permit

At this stage, TPWD will issue a conditional COM permit that will allow you to proceed with the required paperwork for other regulatory agencies. TPWD will include in the permit all the information the other agencies need, including operations plan, natural resource survey, public comments, and TPWD approval for the other agencies to proceed. Include this permit in your application to the agencies listed in step 6.

Step 6. Get Other Agency Permits

Depending on your COM operation, you may need the following authorizations from other regulatory agencies.

Surface Lease from the Texas General Land Office

The Texas GLO oversees the leasing process for coastal land and surface waters. Contact the GLO Permitting Service Center (PSC) to request a Surface Lease application or for assistance navigating their permitting process and USACE permitting. 

Corpus Christi PSC

602 N. Staples St., Suite 240
Corpus Christi, Texas 78401
361-888-9305 (fax)

Galveston PSC

Texas A&M University Galveston Campus
1001 Texas Clipper Road, Building 3026, Room 912
Galveston, Texas 77553
409-741-4010 (fax)
866-894-7664 (toll free)


NWP 48 from the US Army Corps of Engineers

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) issues Nationwide Permit 48 to authorize installation of COM structures (buoys, floats, containers, etc.) in navigable waters. Texas is in the “Galveston” district, so use the Galveston district website to access the application form.


Authorization from the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is responsible for protecting Texas water resources. They have divisions for water intake and water discharge. To determine the appropriate form for your operation, visit the Aquaculture General Permit website. 


The General Aquaculture License from the Texas Department of Agriculture

The Texas Department of Agriculture licenses aquaculture facilities and vehicles used to transport live cultured shellfish. You will need to apply for a General Aquaculture License.

This license will no longer be required as of September 2021.


Marking Determination from the US Coast Guard

You must comply with the US Coast Guard (USCG) marking requirements for site boundaries. A Private Aids to Navigation (PATON) permit will be required to install the required permanent navigation aids in public waters. The PATON is not required for TPWD authorization; only a copy of the Marking Determination (typically in email format) needs to be submitted to TPWD to obtain the final TPWD Permit.

Email the USCG District Eight at and request a marking determination. They will tell you what markings are required and whether you need to fill out a PATON permit application. The PATON application for installing navigation aids may take up to 15 months to process.


Texas Department of State Health Services

The Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) jointly regulates shellfish sanitation with TPWD. If you are selling your oysters directly to a restaurant or for public consumption, you must apply for a Shellfish Certificate of Compliance from DSHS. If you have this permit, you can sell to a restaurant without a dealer’s permit. However, if you plan to export oysters to other states, you will need a TPWD Wholesale Dealer Permit as well.

Texas Administrative Code Title 25, Part 1, Chapter 241, Subchapter B: Molluscan Shellfish

Step 7: Get Final Permit

Finally, scan and email copies of the required authorizations collected in step 6 to TPWD at Once all these authorizations are received, TPWD will send you a bill for your annual permit, which you must pay before TPWD can issue a final permit to authorize farming activities. 

Annual reports will be due in January, regardless of when you received your permit in the previous year.