Earlier this month, Shore Rivers, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Sierra Club, and other environmental activist advocacy groups met at an Eastern Shore Environmental Legislative Review Summit.
Summit attendees included members of the General Assembly from Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, and Baltimore Counties. In reviewing the summit proceedings, it is clear there is a surge of focus on pollution in the Chesapeake Bay.
This is welcome news for everyone interested in the health well – being and a bright future for the Bay.
The Delmarva Fisheries Association (DFA) has been raising the alarm on pollution’s devastating impact on the Bay these for an exceptionally long time. DFA has also been researching and proposing ideas on meaningful and measurable ways to help ensure the Bay not only survives but thrives.
That said, it was disheartening that one uninformed summit attendee made statements about the health of the Bay that are, at best, misleading and are, at worst, flat out wrong.
At the Summit, State Senator Sarah Elfreth who represents Annapolis and the southern portion of Anne Arundel County said the wild fishery for oysters is not rebounding. NOT TRUE! According to the most recent reports from the State Department of Natural Resources, the number of oysters harvested over the previous four years increased dramatically, the number of oysters harvested over the previous three years have increased over 200%, the biomass on oysters harvested have increased and the spat set from which full-grown harvestable oysters grow has increased. These numbers are inconvenient truths for doom and gloom story tellers that help in endless fundraising campaigns by some environmental groups more focused on using incorrect, incomplete, or misleading information to encourage well-intentioned but misinformed members of the public to donate money to their organizations.
Senator Elfreth also expressed her displeasure on how the Maryland Department of Natural Resource’s Oyster Advisory Commission presented their report to members of the General Assembly in December 2021. In her view, development of the report was not conducted in the way that the General Assembly had initially set it up. This observation is misleading. The facts are that industry representatives from DFA on that advisory commission not once, but twice, presented a letter of resolution specifically addressing the fact that the dialogue and deliberation was not working out the way it should have because of covid restrictions on in person meetings. These same representatives expressed their opinion that issuing a final report should be delayed. That view was not shared by a majority of the commission members.
Perhaps Senator Elfreth, who serves as chair of and as one of two Maryland State Senators on the tri state Chesapeake Bay Commission, as Senate Chair of the Joint Committee on the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bay Critical Area, as a member of the Oyster Advisory Commission and was sponsor of the legislation on Fishery Management Plans for Oysters; would have been aware of these facts if she had attended more than a few meetings of the Oyster Advisory Commission over a four year period. Perhaps by attending more meetings and voicing her concerns at those meetings about the process she could have made a difference. By virtue of her serving in all the capacities noted above she also had every opportunity to request, access and review timely and accurate information on such an important issue as oyster restoration challenges and opportunities.
Meeting the still daunting challenges of improving the health of the bay requires every key stakeholder to participate fully in all discussions no matter how these discussions are managed, as well as a commitment to become fully aware of all the pertinent facts. Those charged with doing what is best for the bay need to be engaged wherever, whenever, and however there is fact-based dialogue and deliberation. The Bay and those who love it as a place to make a living or enjoy using it for a wide range of recreational pursuits deserve nothing less
Rob Newberry is the chairman of the Delmarva Fisheries Association