Folklore tells us a vampire cannot come into your house unless invited to do so. Federal agencies cannot come into Maryland waters and do work unless partnered with an active state department.
The EPA Chesapeake Initiative has an oyster component, stating that five tributaries with oyster sanctuaries must be restored. There is an acreage requirement that must be met and as usual a budget that must be spent. The O’Malley DNR, along with the U.S.A.C.O.E. and N.O.A.A., chose Harris Creek, Little Choptank, and Tred Avon sanctuaries for restoration. A fiscal Rubicon was crossed.
Maryland law prohibits destroying natural oyster bars, but in the first two tributaries some bars were buried by rocks. Even though spat were planted on top, damage was done in terms of the natural bar underneath. This past March there was a perfect opportunity for the new administration to inform the federal agencies of a necessary review of these practices to prevent further harm being done to natural oyster bottom in the Tred Avon and any future sanctuaries. At that time, no rock had been planted in the Tred Avon. Now we must deal with a permanent footprint covering some of the natural oyster bars.
Several functioning bars in Harris Creek were permanently “restored” using substrates and rock. Some bars that were surveyed indicated shell was present, but there was less than one oyster per square meter. This defines an impaired oyster bar. Impaired oyster bars that have shell should not be buried but should have oyster seed planted on them. Doing so improves an oyster bar. It is cost effective. Nature placed those bars there, not man. Rocks changed a natural bar to an unnatural bar with other problems. Harris Creek now has navigational hazards created by rocks. It is important to understand that the state allowed federal agencies to permanently alter natural oyster bars. Do the Corps, N.O.A.A., and Maryland want to be remembered for destroying natural oyster bars? Stopping the project as many watermen would like is not an option, but certainly the project can be redirected and improved. There is still time for the governor to direct his DNR secretary to make a shift in policy; to stop the use of rock on natural oyster bars, plant oyster seed on them, and halt pursuing permits to use rock in shallow water, where the most serious navigational issues can occur.
Maybe the boating community would like charts showing these rock areas? Two tributaries remain to be selected. Don’t take any more natural oyster bars and turn them into unnatural bars. Don’t bury them to restore them. Seed them to restore them.