Letter to Editor: The Bay Needs Oyster Sanctuaries


The Bay needs oyster sanctuaries, and the sanctuaries need our help to protect them from efforts to reduce their size and keep them free from harvest. Oyster sanctuaries are our best hope to restore the health and productivity of the Chesapeake Bay. On February 13, the Oyster Advisory Commission considered proposed changes to sanctuary management that would reduce the size of oyster sanctuaries by 11 percent and open up nearly 1,000 acres of the remaining sanctuaries to rotational harvesting. If adopted, the proposal would be a major setback to Chesapeake restoration efforts and should be rejected.

The Oyster Advisory Commission was established in 2007 to advise the Department of Natural Resources on strategies for rebuilding and managing oyster populations. The current oyster management plan was adopted in 2010 to meet these objectives, including the establishment of several sanctuary areas. Of the 36,000 acres of productive oyster bottom remaining in Maryland’s portion of the Bay, 24 percent (approximately 9,000 acres) was placed in sanctuary, with the remaining 76 percent left open as public shellfish fishery areas.

It was clear during Monday’s meeting that there is no scientific justification for a reduction in the size of oyster sanctuaries. The draft 2016 status report indicates that all current objectives for sanctuary management are being met, which means there is no scientific reason to reduce sanctuaries or damage them with rotational harvesting.

Sanctuaries need to be kept free from harvest to allow oysters to continue to reproduce in a manner to establish oyster reefs. Oysters have the incredible ability to filter water – up to 50 gallons of water per day for each oyster. Furthermore, when left to their own devices oysters have the ability to build vertical reefs in the Bay that create critical habitat for other aquatic species. These reefs also help mix Bay water as a result of tidal action, reducing “dead zones” that typically occur during warm weather months. Rotational harvesting would break up the reefs and destroys these vertical structures, sacrificing long-term efforts to restore the Bay for a small and temporary increase in harvest levels.

There is hope. Recently, State Representative James Gilchrist introduced House Bill 924 to prohibit any changes to oyster sanctuaries until the Department of Natural Resources developed a science-based plan that would justify any changes. Under this bill, the Department would consult with University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science to carry out peer-reviewed science that would guide future action, with a final report due December 2018. This approach would ensure that science, and not short term political interests, would govern management of the oyster sanctuaries. Oysters belong in the Bay, and the Bay belongs to all of us.

Ron Ketter

Letters to Editor

  1. David Lloyd says:

    Until the last paragraph, very scary! Why are the professional oyster fishermen so determined to destroy their — and our — oyster future? Are they unable — or is it unwilling? – to understand what is at risk? And why do I get the sense that our governor, Mr Hogan, is supportive of these moves? Is he, like so many republicans these days, totally turned off by science? Very scary!

    • These professional oyster fishermen as you call them are not out to destroy the oyster future, however more sanctuaries like the Harris Creek project will do just that. This project took some of the best and most productive oyster harvest area and killed it by covering it with rock in many cases enough rock to cause major damage to many boats. Take the time to check out the facts on this. The watermen all agree sanctuaries done the right way will benefit the industry, many have done this for years on there own grounds,and have not taken over current oyster bars. These sanctuaries if left untouched for long periods of time will produce oysters however as the oysters age they are more more prone to disease which would be counter productive so perhaps rotational harvest is the best answer.

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