The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) is opposing proposed changes to Maryland’s public shellfish fishery areas that would limit the ability to expand oyster farming and restoration activities in the future.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) presented the proposed policy Oct. 12 at the Oyster Advisory Commission meeting. The proposal, if approved in regulation, would establish criteria to develop new public shellfish fishery areas—Bay bottom reserved exclusively for oyster harvesting —if the area has five or more oysters per square meter of bottom.
Once a public shellfish fishery area has been established, the bottom can no longer be used for activities such as oyster restoration or oyster farming, also known as aquaculture. However, Bay bottom with strong oyster populations are among the best areas to restore oyster reefs or raise oysters as part of an aquaculture operation. This proposal could prevent reef restoration and aquaculture in large portions of Maryland’s Bay by reserving them for commercial harvest. More than 179,000 acres of Bay bottom are already designated as public shellfish fishery areas. An additional 100,000 acres or more that fall outside of these areas are also open to oyster harvest. About 6,500 acres of Bay bottom are currently being leased for oyster farming.
Environmental advocates, scientists, watermen, and seafood sellers are working together to develop recommendations for a new fishery management plan for oysters as part of a consensus process established in Maryland law in January. DNR’s proposed regulations represent a major change in oyster management that undermine the spirit of that law and the process that’s already underway. This end-around the consensus-based process ties the hands of stakeholders working to develop a shared vision for oyster management.
The proposal must still go through a public comment period and legislative review before it can be established in regulation by DNR. CBF is urging DNR to consider tabling this proposal so that it may be properly considered by the Oyster Advisory Commission members whose legislative mandate is to cooperatively develop recommendations for oyster management that increase oyster abundance and ends overfishing.
The reality is Maryland needs more oysters. Oysters filter and clarify water. Their reefs provide habitat to blue crabs, fish, and other marine life. Despite these benefits, oyster populations in the state remain at historic lows. Expanding areas for the exclusive use of harvesters that require no replanting of oysters and excluding aquaculture operators, who are required to replant areas at sustainable levels, seems highly unlikely to achieve this outcome.
CBF Maryland Fisheries Scientist Allison Colden issued the following statement about the proposal:
“This proposal undermines the process put in place by the legislature to implement actions to increase the oyster population and end overfishing. It appears to be a one-sided proposal to increase the oyster harvest at the expense of restoration and aquaculture efforts that are helping to bring Maryland’s oysters back. Making more of Maryland’s Bay bottom off-limits to restoration and aquaculture makes no sense as oyster populations are wallowing at historic lows. The state must balance the interests of the fishery with the environmental and social benefits more oysters could provide, instead of reserving the remaining oysters in Maryland waters for harvest.”
Letters to Editor
Capt. Robert Newberry says
I can’t believe the comments that Dr Colden has made in this article!!! To make the statement that harvesters do not replenish the areas they harvest is nothing but a bold-faced lie. The industry spends at least $1 million a year restoring seed and shell on the areas that they harvest. If she would like to find the truth out just go to the expenditures that DNR puts out in the shellfish division. If this is one-sided, it’s one-sided on Dr Colden’s side, certainly not the industry! At the present time there is only a regulation in place to declassify bottom of the Chesapeake Bay and not classify.
What Dr Colden, so conveniently forgets to mention, is that in the initial Aquaculture Bill put forth by the O’Malley administration, any and all classification of oyster and clam bottom was removed from the existing regulation. Once again, the CBF is putting out false information trying to make the commercial fishery in Maryland look bad. Enough is enough! The facts are out there what these great men and women do to keep their industry sustainable. Remember this one comment that Dr Colden has made many times,” our goal is to see that aquaculture surpasses and replaces the wild fishery within the next 10 years”. This comment was made as recently as last year at the Environmental and Transportation committee. The CBF is still upset about last year’s result of the wild harvest. They said that the aquaculture harvest would probably surpass the wild harvest in the near future. Wrong comment!
We were over 240,000 bushels last year, and aquaculture was less than 25% of that number. All we are trying to do is establish a regulation to where aquaculture industrialists have to do what they initially stated back when the aquaculture bill was introduced. Their comment was, and I quote, we will never interfere with the wild fishery, we will never disturb their bottom in the wild fishery, because all we need is baron bottom to create our oyster areas. Now they want to put areas for aquaculture on bottom that could have as many as 25 oysters per meter squared. This is not going to happen!! There is plenty of room out there for aquaculture to work along with the wild fishery. Do not let the CBF and their other henchmen convince you that they need to take the bottom away from the commercial fishery because they say we’re not doing anything. If anybody is not doing anything, it’s the Chesapeake Bay foundation! 40 years on the job and the bay is still getting a d minus! If you think that’s a good job your nuts!
C Kayhoe says
There more than enough barren bottom in the bay for oyster farming. Just look at all the area north of the Bay Bridge (for example).Oyster farmers do not need to take control over wild harvest area that is restored every year by harvesters. CBF Fake scientist with their PR move again . 40 years no results from them, again. When will true Marylanders wake up to them, I see the Talbot Spy post all there stories ASAP for them.