Del. Jay Jacobs will try to move a bill through the House Environmental Matters Committee on Friday to allow power dredging of oyster beds north of the Bay Bridge. CBF’s Fisheries Director will testify against the bill.
“Tomorrow I will introduce a bill to permit power dredging for oysters above the Bay Bridge,” said Jacobs, R-Kent. “I have the unanimous support on this bill from watermen organizations up and down the entire Bay. The bill allows for some limited harvesting, but also includes a plan to clean oyster bars, plant new oyster spat and create a sustainable fishery for generations to come.”
Similar bills have failed in the House and Senate over the years but Jacobs thinks there is momentum for passage this session.
Maryland Waterman’s Association President Robert Brown said dredging will help repair some of the silt damage from Tropical Storm Sandy in 2011.
“We need to get the 28,500 acres north of the Bay Bridge productive again,” Brown said. “It may take a few years to get the productivity back, but dredging will help remove the sediment from Sandy and pull the shells to the top. It will give us more brood stock and we will then plant these areas for future harvesting.”
Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian is expected to testify in favor of the bill.
“It will go a long way to regenerate the oyster population north of the Bay Bridge,” Fithian said. “Power dredging is a proven method used south of the Bay Bridge and in Delaware, Virginia, and New Jersey to let mother nature grow new oysters. Letting oysters stay buried under silt coming from the Conowingo Dam continues to keep oyster populations down and harm the waterman industry in the upper third of the Bay.”
Chesapeake Bay Foundation Will Oppose
CBF Fisheries Director Bill Goldsborough said he will testify against the bill because he believes the oyster population north of the Bay Bridge cannot sustain itself with the introduction of power dredging. He said the low salinity content in the upper third of the Bay doesn’t allow for oysters to naturally replace themselves at the rate they would be harvested.
“Power dredging is the most efficient harvesting technique we can have, so we have to make sure the resources where there is dredging have the reproduction to replace the oysters we’re removing,” Goldsborough said. “You only want to allow harvesting where the spat set is consistent from year-to-year.”
“The salinity is just too low in the upper Bay,” he said. “The average spat set has produced about one baby oyster per bushel, per year over the last 10 to 12 years, and only a small percentage survive to adulthood.”
He said a five-year pilot program in the lower Bay reveals the oyster populations there can merely survive power dredging — but there is no evidence that power dredging actually leads to an increase in the population there. He said the harvests in Tangier Sound have resulted in a zero-sum-gain in the oyster population.
“The data shows that the spat set has only been sufficient to replace the oysters that have been removed,” Goldsborough said.
Goldsborough pointed to a five-year study of the Swan Point bar off Rock Hall, north of the Bay Bridge, where the harvest has decreased dramatically in the first three years from 2,000 bushels in the first year to “zero” in the third year — “with no appreciable spat set.”
But Del. Steve Arentz, R-Queen Anne’s, said the buried oysters need to be harvested or they will simply die.
“State-restricted dredging areas simply are not working,” Arentz said. “By not harvesting oysters in these areas, they grow too large and die. We need to work with our watermen for common-sense policies that will insure they can harvest enough oysters to make a living.”
The hearing will start at 1 p.m., Feb. 28, in the House Office Building, Room 230, Annapolis, MD 21401-1991
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