Virginia has rejected a federal offer to spend more than $200,000 to build new oyster reefs in the Lafayette River, saying the city waterway is "a low-priority site" compared with others in the Chesapeake Bay.We've been following this for some time now, here, here and here. I'm pretty much on the Federal Government/Army Corps of Engineers (or Army Corpse of Engineers, as someone might say). The oysters need a break from the intense fishing. It's insanity to allow fishing on a stock that is producing one hundredth of what it did formerly. While we may never get the stock back to what it was at in the mid 1800s, it couldn't hurt to try.
The decision comes just weeks after Norfolk officials and environmental groups, along with state officials, announced a campaign to clean up the Lafayette and make it swimmable and fishable by 2020. Plans call for building at least 10 acres of artificial oyster reefs, among other initiatives.
In a June 3 letter, Steve Bowman, head of the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, wrote that the state has too few oyster shells to use in the Lafayette and that remaining reserves are needed for building and repairing reefs elsewhere.
"We are not supportive of this effort," Bowman wrote to the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It was NOAA that offered the federal aid for the Lafayette, a branch of the Elizabeth River that runs through west Norfolk.
The letter is the latest development in a stalemate between Virginia and federal agencies over how best to restore oyster stocks in the Bay. Disease, pollution, lost habitat and overfishing are blamed for ravaging oyster populations to a fraction of their historic levels.
Virginia is upset that federal dollars can be spent only on reefs where oyster harvesting is banned. Federal agencies have not always followed this sanctuary-only policy, and the state wants reefs to not only benefit the environment - oysters naturally filter pollutants and cleanse the Bay - but also aid commercial seafood interests.
It seems to me that Virginia has little to lose going with federal plan, except the votes of watermen. And I guess that's the point.