More than 200 watermen signed up Tuesday, Feb. 25, to testify against a bill seeking to reduce unlimited tidal fishery license holders’ ability to harvest oysters.The dreaded oyster tax! They need to go dump some in the Bay, just like the Tea Party!
The bill’s opponents argued the bill threatens to override the Oyster Advisory Commission, devalues their TFL and could cause overfishing of other species if oysters are off limits.
Senate bill 984 proposes the removal of oyster harvesting from the list of activities allowed under TFL regulations if a licensee hasn’t indicated — by paying a surcharge — that their oyster harvesting permit isn’t dormant.
If tensions weren’t high enough in a room full of offended watermen awaiting their turn to speak Tuesday, the hearing kicked off three hours later than its expected 1 p.m. start time, as lawmakers in the Senate Education, Health & Environmental Affairs Committee debated a host of unrelated bills ahead of its discussion on SB984.Somehow, there has to be a better way of finding out how many of the the licenses are being used to fish oysters than to tax them. How about putting tags on bushels that are recorded by the state? It works for rockfish (although I'm sure there's a certain level of cheating.
Many watermen who were waiting for the hearing to begin said they thought the long delay was intentional — with Captain Rob Newberry of Delmarva Fisheries Association murmuring at one point, “They do this s— on purpose.”
Once the hearing began, though, Sen. Paul Pinsky, D-22-Prince George’s, who introduced the bill, said that the legislation’s intention was not to inconvenience anyone or to “put anybody out.”
Pinsky said the purpose of the bill was to provide a “better and clearer” understanding of how many of the roughly 2,000 license holders actually were going to use their license during a given year.
“If we’re only using 235 (licenses), I’d like to limit it to that, so we don’t have people fishing for the same oysters, and also so we don’t have overfishing,” he said. “The pressure on the people who are doing this for a living has grown as other people come in and come out (to harvest oysters.) This was to put a cap on it ... and to put a value on those that are used.”
Pinsky said the idea for the bill came from watermen who complained that people shouldn’t be allowed to hold the license and use it indefinitely because then “you’ll never know how many people will be oystering that season.”
The senator’s comment that a waterman proposed the TFL changes prompted laugher from the crowd of watermen, who shouted, “Nah” and “bulls—.”
Sen. Jack Bailey, R-29-Calvert and St. Mary’s, who is on the Committee, said to Pinsky that if the watermen who were in favor of the bill “truly existed” they would’ve brought up that oystering is “very labor intensive.”
Bailey said if someone puts their oystering license on the shelf for a year or two, there’s likely a good reason. He suggested that maybe the licensee was injured, or they didn’t have the money to pay the surcharge or to buy the needed equipment.
All of which is just whistling past the graveyard. Oyster populations are so low that commercial fishing on "wild" oysters needs to be stopped entirely while we determine if the native oysters can even thrive in the new environment that is the modern Bay.