The Chesapeake Bay Foundation wants the state to take a different tack in regulating the wild oyster harvest to better preserve the population.
In advance of the oyster season’s Oct. 1 opening, the Department of Natural Resources issued this year’s harvest regulations with the expectation of a 26% reduction in the number of oysters caught.
The efforts include barring commercial oyster harvesting on Wednesdays. There also will be temporary closures of areas where oyster populations are low. Recreational harvesting will be allowed only on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, with a 50% reduction in catch limits.
On Sept. 16, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation stated that it does not believe this year’s reductions will result in a harvest decrease, nor will they protect the oyster population. The foundation stated that the DNR’s own analysis presented in April confirms reducing one harvest day a week “if implemented alone ... would have little conservation impact.”
“The other regulations — slightly reducing bushel limits and banning harvest above the Bay Bridge — are expected to reduce the overall harvest by 4% and 1%, respectively, according to DNR. These reductions offer little benefits for oyster conservation, especially considering market sized oysters above the Bay Bridge planted previously will remain available to harvest under the new regulations,” states a news release from the foundation.
Allison Colden, Maryland fisheries scientist for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, issued a statement saying the DNR is obligated to use “the best available science to protect and conserve the state’s resources.”
“Their own analysis shows this proposal will have little, if any, impact to conserve oysters. These are halfhearted attempts that fail to address overfishing or the systemic and chronic decline of Maryland’s oyster population. We can’t keep putting off this problem,” Colden said in a statement.
According to the DNR, this year’s limits seek to put the oyster fishery on a path to rebound sustainability over the next decade.
But then, remember my preferred oyster restoration plan is to ban fishing on any "wild" oysters for 5-10 years to allow the population to recover itself. If it can't recover in that amount of time (given that each adult oyster releases millions of eggs), we can be reasonably certain that oysters are no longer capable of sustaining harvest-able populations in the Bay as it currently exists. In the meanwhile, free aquaculture for oysters from some of the regulations that limit it in the Bay, to encourage watermen to adopt it.
“With an 8-10 year timeframe set as our goal, it is important that we begin implementation as soon as possible. If we combine sustainable fishing practices with other measures such as strategic investment, habitat restoration and sanctuaries, the result will be real, long-term solutions for the resource,” said Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio in a news release announcing this year’s limits.
As the DNR stated when releasing this season’s limits, the oyster population is affected by a number of issues, including disease, pollution and the demands of the seafood industry. Two years of heavy rains have changed salinity levels in parts of the Bay, impacting the oyster population.
DNR scientists reportedly used models, stock assessments and stakeholder input when preparing this year’s oyster regulations, with the information “scoped” in a public meeting with a number of fishery-related commissions.
Chuckie White, president of the Kent County Waterman’s Association, said last week that most of his fellow watermen are fine with this year’s limits. He said the price watermen are receiving for oysters helps offset the catch limits.
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The foundation wants the DNR to set total allowable catch limits, taking population estimates and setting harvest numbers for specific areas. When watermen hit a limit according to their catch reports for a harvest area, it would then be closed for the season.
In addition, the foundation is seeking a better “abundance target” from the DNR than the department’s general goal of a “sustainable oyster fishery.”