Out and About (Sort of): Oysters Grow With Patience by Howard Freedlander


After reading a few weeks ago about a Talbot County Council briefing concerning the status of local, primarily government- funded oyster sanctuaries, I was dismayed but not entirely surprised by skepticism over the effectiveness of these regulated limits.I think that the success or lack thereof demands patience as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore District ((USACE), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) strive to upgrade the oyster population and water quality.

Watermen and their proponents need to chill out. Trust and then verify, as President Ronald Reagan once said about a newly revived relationship with the Soviet Union.

I’m aware after nearly 41 years on the Eastern Shore of the iconic nature of the oysters and the emotions evoked by this bivalve.

I’m aware that watermen fear for their livelihoods and independence every time government tries to manage a valuable natural resource.

I’m aware that there is deep-seated distrust and frustration on the part of watermen which want no interference, and government and nonprofit agencies and groups who believe that the natural course of events promotes depletion of the beloved oysters.

My stance is clear-cut: allow the restoration of Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River to proceed without rancor, political intrusion and delay.

I support Council Member Dirck Bartlett’s enlightened approach. He simply advocates giving the state a chance to restore oyster communities while monitoring the progress.

Watermen have been very effective in voicing their skepticism. They have a voice that should be heard. They are defending their occupations. At the same time, they need to look into the future and ensure the restoration effort is fact-and-science-based. They need to trust the process.

Since 2011, restoration has covered 563 acres of no-harvest sanctuary oyster reefs in Harris Creek, Little Choptank River and Tred Avon River. The cost from 2011-2016 has been $47.61 million.

Concerning Harris Creek, which seems to gain the most attention–and contention–monitoring of the reefs occurs three and six years after initial restoration in concert with pre-set Chesapeake Bay Oyster Metrics criteria. Fall 2015 findings revealed that 100 percent of the reefs seeded in 2012 were considered successful (15 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom while 50 percent met the higher target of 50 oysters per square meter over 30 percent of the bottom. My source is a document produced by NOAA, USACE, DNR and ORP.

While I dismissed skepticism and counseled patience at the outset of this column, I strongly believe that questioning government programs, including this oyster restoration project, is healthy. After all, $47.6 is real money and a significant investment in local tributaries. What I oppose are arguments based on emotion and misinformation.

A free-for-all without any resource management and control would be destructive and counterproductive. I find rumors of poaching on the restored reefs particularly disturbing stepped up law enforcement by Maryland Natural Resources is absolutely necessary. Otherwise, restoration efforts would be severely compromised.

The Chesapeake Bay oyster symbolizes the health and productivity of this vital estuary. The livelihoods of watermen and their families depend not only on the harvest of the blue crab and rock fish but the long-suffering oyster population. The oyster restoration program represents a serious attempt to revive a once-flourishing industry, short of a moratorium.

Increased water quality is a necessary byproduct.

Espousing the belief that watermen and government leaders should give the seeding project a chance to succeed by producing fact-based results, Dirck Bartlett has sounded a clarion call for patience and trust. He’s right on target.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.



Letters to Editor

  1. Dirck Bartlett says:

    Thanks for your kind comments Howard. I just wanted to give NOAA a chance to respond the criticism from Capt. Newberry. I have noticed improvements in the water quality, marine life and water clarity in the Tred Avon. We have miles to go but I believe the oysters should be given a chance. Thanks

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