WBOC TV, Man O War Shoals, and False News by Marc Castelli

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Non-aligned journalism is even more important in these days of “fake-news” and presidentially personal news services. Recently a Maryland television station, WBOC, allowed itself to be used by several organizations for their own purposes of self-promotion.

The article/segment was about the watermen trumpeting a hard-won decades-long victory in winning the rights to dredge for oyster shell on Man O War Shoals in the upper Bay. The piece featured a fair amount of false information, outright manufactured news and blatantly misleading self-promotion.

The world of news is increasingly fast-paced these days. Social media has made fact-checking time consuming which makes accurate reporting difficult. But that should never be an excuse for not exercising due diligence when reporting. The segment that was in dire need of fact-checking by the all too trusting reporter included some alarming misdirections. I will list the errors in the video segment below.

The oyster bar known as Man O War shoals is not just a sanctuary. Only a portion of that shoal is a sanctuary. The implication that watermen will now be allowed to dredge shell from a sanctuary is dangerously misleading and to do so is illegal.

The public needs to realize that the 5 million bushels of shell that will be dredged as a short-term 5-year experiment is not a lot of shell. This is even more apparent when that amount is to be divided up among sanctuaries, aquaculture, and the oyster industry.The spokesman for the newcomer organization, “Delmarva Fisheries Association” (DFA), Mr. Tom Bradshaw made the “victory” sound as if it was solely the result of his organization’s “decades-long” hard work.

DFA has been around for a little over three years. The struggle for renewing a shell dredge permit was started by Delegate Tony O’Donnell in 2006 at an Oyster Advisory Commission meeting, with the full support of the Maryland Waterman’s Association (MWA), and the Maryland Oystermen Association (MOA). For those two organizations, it has been a long struggle. Not by any definition a decades-long fight. The state legislature mandated the permit application; it is the law. It has been pared down by many environmental stakeholders to its current incarnation of a 5-year study to record the effects of shell dredging. It is not a permit for widespread dredging of shell from Man O War or any other bar in perpetuity.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s assertion that the process is not cost effective is reveals that CBF will complain as loudly as the media will allow when it feels that any funding not coming its way is misspent. The funding for the Man O War shell dredge experiment comes from several sources of which only a portion is from the Obama mandated Chesapeake Restoration Bill. Information that comes from the experiment fits the need for restoring the bay.

The CBF’s assertion that their plan of concrete balls for oyster bar restoration is the best technique for alternate substrates is not the solution. It is at best a cynical plan to deny any bar that has such devices planted on it to be permanently removed from any future active management plan that might be better and more cost effective.
The images of successful concrete oyster bar restoration are misleading. Using photos to survey an oyster bar is at best subjective. It can be an exercise in smoke and mirrors. The business that performs the surveys needs to explain to the public how it conducts the surveys and how “scientific” they actually are.

I will address the errors in the written portion below.

Despite assertions made to the contrary, no shell will be dredged from either sanctuary portions or from planted areas.

The erroneous self-promotion by DFA expressed in the video segment was also repeated in the written article accompanying the video. DFA has not been around for decades. It piggybacked its “success” on the many years of efforts carried out by MWA. and the MOA. It is unfortunate that all the hard and steady efforts of the MWA. and the MOA were purposefully ignored by the DFA. Restoring the oyster industry is an effort carried on by many organizations and will need to be so for many years to come.

The dredge permit approval is only for a five year scientifically monitored experiment with very limited dredging allowed.

The seed and shell programs erroneously credited to the watermen by the DFA. have been state programs that were conducted with the industry’s co-operation along with the use of industry gear and boats. Those programs were halted in 2006 with CBF, CCA. approval and backed up by the past O’Malley/Griffin administration.

Once again, CBF oversimplified the costs effectiveness of the project. The funding is multi-sourced. A majority of the shell will go to the sanctuaries, as that protocol is the most funded. I have a hard time imagining anyone would object to increasing the already large amount of scientific information about the effects of shell dredging. This is even more obvious when with some more in-depth journalism the public would see that the project has been planned and reviewed many times to reduce the amount of any envisaged damages.

For more information, please refer to the D.N.R. 72-page explanation of the permit.

http://dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/Pages/oysters/permit-applications.aspx
http://dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries/Documents/Attachment_1-Man_O_War_Application_revFeb2017.pdf

The 2017 February review is the most recent. You will find all of the known science, maps, and the many missing facts from the article/video and in the CBF statements about the project. It’s all there for foundations, stakeholders, and citizens to read and for journalists to be better able to inform the public. I am constantly puzzled by the media’s lack of effort to get the facts from as many sources as possible. The reporter in this instance should have gone to the DNR for cross-checking the information presented by the CBF and DFA.

Marc Castelli is an artist who lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.

 

 

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