Thursday, February 4, 2016

Army Sends Maryland Oyster Money to Virginia

Recycled oyster shells for restoration
Corps shifts funds for halted MD oyster project to VA
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted the Hogan administration’s request to halt an oyster restoration project in the Tred Avon River, risking future federal funding for an ambitious effort to carry out a large-scale revival of the Chesapeake Bay’s iconic but depleted shellfish.

Construction of eight acres of new oyster reefs in the Tred Avon, which had been scheduled to begin this month, will be delayed at least until next winter, the Corps said. And $1 million that would have gone to the Maryland project will now be allocated to the Corps’ sister office in Norfolk for oyster restoration work in Virginia, said Sarah Gross, spokeswoman for the Corps’ Baltimore District.

Virginia has also been working to restore oyster habitat in its portion of the Chesapeake, where the waters are saltier and oysters grow better, but are more threatened by crippling oyster diseases.

DNR Secretary Mark Belton initially asked for the Tred Avon delay in December after the governor’s staff met with watermen who oppose the way restoration is being done.  Accompanied by a member of Gov. Larry Hogan’s staff, Belton reiterated the request last week at a meeting with officials from the Corps and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

A DNR spokesman had said the administration wants to “pause” the Tred Avon project until DNR can complete a review of the state’s overall approach to oysters, including how it manages commercial harvest, sanctuaries and aquaculture. That review is to be done by July, he said.

Once harvested by multiple millions of bushels, the bay’s oysters have been decimated since the late 19th century by overfishing, habitat loss and diseases.
It was never entirely clear to me why the watermen opposed the oyster restoration. Part of it was that the restored areas are usually off limits to oystering, at least until they whine hard and long enough, at which point the state cave and gives them access. They also cited problems with gear, including lost equipment, and even damage to boats from the rocks they have used as oyster substrate. The Bay is full of obstructions; you just need to know where they are and to go around them. The 16 of 25 acres planned that the Corps managed to put in last year is pretty small compared to the Bay.

As I say every time I post an article on oysters, I oppose spending money on oysters in the Bay until we can prove that oysters are capable of thriving in the modern Bay. We should stop fishing for wild oysters and restoration for 5-10 years, and see how well oysters recover on their own.

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