Maryland lawmakers voted Tuesday to temporarily block any changes to the state’s oyster sanctuaries, effectively halting a move by the Hogan administration to open some of them to commercial harvest next fall.
By a vote of 32 to 14, the Senate gave final approval to a bill barring adjustments to sanctuary boundaries until the Department of Natural Resources finishes an assessment of the state’s oyster population, expected late next year.
The same measure passed the House two weeks ago, 102-39, so it now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan. Once it reaches his desk, he has six days to sign or veto it, or let it become law without his signature. Though his administration opposed the bill, it received enough votes in each chamber to override his veto.
Environmentalists hailed the vote, saying it headed off what they considered a premature move to open sanctuaries before state fisheries managers have figured out how much harvest pressure Maryland’s oyster population can handle.Maryland has a long history of hiring the foxes to guard the hen houses.
Alison Prost, Maryland director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, called it “a very important step for oyster recovery in the Bay.” Oysters, she said, are the state’s only fishery without a stock assessment or a full management plan to ensure it is sustainable. Over watermen’s objections, the General Assembly last year directed the DNR to assess the status of the state’s oyster population and determine a sustainable harvest level, which would be due by Dec. 1, 2018.
“This bill makes sure we have that before we make any changes to our protective policy for the sanctuaries,” Prost said.
But Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton issued a statement saying he was disappointed that lawmakers had acted on behalf of “special interest groups” to “upend” the work of the 24-member Oyster Advisory Commission he had appointed last year. That group, about half of its members representing or sympathetic to the oyster industry, has been meeting since July and discussing possible changes to the state’s management of its sanctuaries, its public fishery and restoration efforts.
Remember Fritz's Oyster Recovery Plan. Ban all commercial fishing on wild oysters for 5 or more years to find out if they are able to recover without any fishing pressure and without restoration (planting spat). If they show signs of decent recovery on their own, then reevaluate, and decide how long to protect them before allowing the harvest of natural oysters. In the meantime, encourage watermen (and waterwomen) to take up oyster aquaculture.
Wombat-socho has "Rule 5 Monday: Baseball Babes" up and running at The Other McCain.
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