A bill passed by the Maryland Senate and pending before the House would require University of Maryland scientists to establish harvest limits that ensure a sustainable catch for years to come. Representatives of the seafood industry are branding the measure as costly and unnecessary.Heck, it may even be back up to 2%, but we don't really know because no one really knows how many oysters were around in the glory days. We just know they caught a shit ton of oysters.
The bill's supporters, however, say Maryland's oyster population is being overfished, pointing to estimates that it is 1 percent of its historic size.
So why are we asking the University of Maryland to take over a job that is clearly in the scope of Maryland's Dept of Natural Resources?
The bill puts the University of Maryland's Center for Environmental Science in charge of completing the study by Oct. 1, 2017. The center isn't taking a formal position on the bill because doing so would threaten its objectivity in the study, if it were to move forward, said Dave Nemazie, the center's chief of staff.
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Stock assessments are common regulatory tools employed by state and federal officials alike, Nemazie said. They incorporate information such as field surveys, the growth and reproduction patterns of the species and mathematical formulas to determine harvest limits.
“You’re setting a limit where you hope to get a maximum yield, as much out of the fishery as you can economically, as well as manage the population in a sustainable matter," he said.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources does things a little differently at present. Its researchers scour the bay's oyster beds each year, checking on their health and the proliferation of young oysters, known as spat. But none of those efforts can effectively tell how many is too many to be caught.And what's to prevent DNR from doing that? Will there be added money for the UMD to do the work, that's then subtracted from DNR's budget? Yeah, that'll go over big in Annapolis. More likely UMD will do the "stock assessment", and the politicians will intervene and set the oyster take anyway.
DNR has joined the seafood industry in opposing the legislation. Legislators have struck one provision of the bill that would have barred the agency from taking any actions that would increase the harvest until after the report's release.I hate to agree with the watermen on a fishing related issue but, it should be the scientists job to tell the politicians the likely consequence of their actions, and the politicians job to risk their jobs implementing it. Scientists have no business setting policy.
Critics say the study would be largely redundant after this summer, when DNR is set to release a review of its oyster sanctuary program, which has put 25 percent of the state's most-productive beds off-limits to watermen.
I still haven't budged from my own personal plan to save the oysters. Stop fishing wild oysters, and stop trying to bring them back for 5, or better, 10 years, to see if oysters can succeed in the modern Chesapeake Bay. If they can, institute harvest limits that allow them to continue to increase. If they can't, allow aquaculture to take over.