Officers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visited several watermen on Tangier Island and seafood businesses in Crisfield last week as part of an investigation they are conducting related to oysters.Smells fishy, or maybe oystery, to me.
The federal officials interviewed watermen on the Virginia island, asking for records related to oyster sales to Crisfield businesses. They took copies of records but did not seize any bivalves; it’s not harvest season.
Federal officials would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, saying that’s their policy. But Wyn Hornbuckle, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice, did confirm “federal law enforcement activity” in Crisfield and Tangier last Wednesday.
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Eskridge said the law enforcement inquiry apparently stems from a different method of counting oysters per bushel in the two states. In Virginia, the oyster limit is 16 bushels; in Maryland, that equates to 20 bushels because of the different size baskets used. (Maryland’s bushel limit is 15, further complicating matters.) When the price of oysters, which has historically hovered around $30 a bushel, spikes to closer to $55, as it has at times in recent seasons due to shortages in the Gulf of Mexico, the watermen feel it’s worth the fuel costs to take their oysters to Crisfield.
So, Eskridge said, the officers were finding a discrepancy in the catch records; a Virginia oysterman would report catching 16 bushels, but would sell 20 in Maryland.
“We weren’t breaking any laws by taking the oysters into Maryland. They were offering more money,” Eskridge said. “If they get the same measurement for both states, that problem will go away.”