|One of J.D. Blackwell's oyster leases in St. Mary's County, Md.|
Responding to complaints from waterfront homeowners, officials in St. Mary’s County, MD, voted Tuesday to impose a six-month moratorium on using commercial docks to work any new state-issued aquaculture leases that would raise oysters in cages or floats.
With just three of its five members present, the Southern Maryland county’s board of commissioners adopted the moratorium by a vote of 2–1, after shortening its duration from 18 months to 180 days. One member was absent, while another recused himself from the session because he owns a waterfront home and has objected to an aquaculture lease applied for off his shoreline.
The county’s action drew criticism from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and from a local oyster farmer, who noted that watermen have increasingly turned to aquaculture as an alternative or supplement to fickle wild harvests.
“Right at the time when watermen need a real option, we’re about to make it harder for them,” said J.D. Blackwell, owner of 38North Oysters in St. Mary’s County.
St. Mary’s has been one of Maryland’s hotbeds for oyster farming since the state moved in 2010 to expand aquaculture. There have been 99 leases issued there, covering nearly 900 acres of water. About one-fourth of those leases authorize the use of cages on the bottom or floats on the surface, while the rest only permit growing oysters on loose shell on the bottom, much as they do in the wild.