The debate over Maryland’s oyster management is heating up, as watermen are pushing to open 14,000 acres of the state’s extensive sanctuary network to harvest.So in addition to wanting to fish on the newly restored population in successful restoration areas (gained at major expense to the tax payer, I might add) the watermen want to prevent the state from restoring even more bottom historically suitable for oysters, so they can
Only about 1,340 of those acres actually have oysters on them, Department of Natural Resources officials said. But they include opening to harvest part of a river that’s undergone large-scale, publicly funded restoration of its reefs and oyster population.
The proposals, outlined at a meeting of the DNR’s Oyster Advisory Commission in November, drew immediate pushback from environmentalists and scientists. And a federal fisheries official warned that granting watermen’s request to open portions of the Little Choptank River could undermine oyster repopulation efforts under way as part of Maryland’s commitment to the Chesapeake Bay restoration.
Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton, who has indicated a willingness to tinker with the sanctuaries, called the watermen’s proposals “a starting point.” He told advisory commission members that he expected a “lengthy discussion” as they review these and other proposals to alter the state’s management of its ecologically and economically important shellfish.
Over the years, Maryland has placed about 250,000 acres of the Bay and its tributaries in sanctuaries, of which about 30 percent is “historic oyster bottom”— areas charted as actively harvested in state surveys a century ago, when commercial harvests hovered around 4 million bushels annually.
Since then, many of the reefs that once harbored oysters have vanished, worn away by repeated harvesting or buried in silt. More recent surveys indicate only about 36,000 acres of viable oyster habitat remain. Of that “productive oyster bottom,” as DNR officials call it, about 9,000 acres are in sanctuaries, with the other 27,000 acres open for harvest.
I reiterate my plan for oyster recovery. Ban fishing on "wild" (non aquaculture) oysters for 5, or better, 10 years, without any attempt at restoration, to see if the Virginia Oysters is still capable of population expansion in the modern Chesapeake Bay. If so, great, start fishing again with real management designed to sustain and even expand that population. If not, let the oyster farmers plant their foreign species still capable of growth here.