The Maryland Department of Natural Resources today announced a comprehensive plan on oyster restoration, including its intention to recommend Breton Bay and the upper St. Mary’s River as the fourth and fifth tributaries to satisfy the state’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement goal of restoring native oyster habitat and populations in five tributaries by 2025.In other words, a put and take oysters system. The state pays to prepare the site, and plant the oysters, then, when they mature, the watermen are allowed into the "sanctuaries" to pillage the oysters.
The department’s selection complements ongoing large-scale oyster restoration activities in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and the Tred Avon River.
“Maryland is committed to restoring the oyster population throughout the Chesapeake Bay for both ecological and economic reasons,” Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “This keystone species builds the foundation of a healthy marine ecosystem, cleaning and filtering water, while also serving as the backbone of our fisheries-based economy, be it aquaculture or commercial harvesting.”
The recommendations will be shared with the Maryland Oyster Restoration Interagency Workgroup, which includes the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The department will also gather input from citizens, communities and stakeholders in an open and transparent public comment process.
Breton Bay intends to be restored with the assistance of the state’s federal partners while work in the upper section of the St. Mary’s River would be conducted by the state. All contracts for seed planting and substrate placement in the final two restoration sites will be competitively bid.
“These restoration recommendations strike the right balance between the environment and the economy by concentrating limited yet targeted resources on existing sanctuaries with the most potential for success, based on the best available science,” Belton said. “These two sites have the broad support of environmentalists and riverkeepers as well as county leaders and watermen.”
Along with its restoration selections, the state also plans to study and survey existing state oyster sanctuaries around Annapolis and the Lower Eastern Shore. For the first time, the department will design and develop oyster management plans for the Manokin, Nanticoke and Severn rivers to determine how the strategic use of state investment and resources, including seed, shell and spat, could spur natural oyster growth and reproduction.
Lastly, the department intends to move forward with developing a rotational harvest system, designating a seed study area, and renewing the state’s oyster shell collection and recycling programs.
Again, my oyster restoration plan would be to simply stop harvesting natural (as opposed to aquaculture) oysters for 5-10 years to see if Eastern Oysters can still successfully recolonize the Chesapeake Bay in it's current state.