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Rethink Needed on Oyster Strategy

by Ellen Hardy
17 January 2008, at 12:00am

MARYLAND - Farming oysters, rather than harvesting wild stocks, will be the route to saving Maryland's historic shellfish. A report Marylands Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC), says new science and management practices must be implemented.

The report was submitted recently to Governor Martin O’Malley, the Members of the Maryland General Assembly, and Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Secretary John R. Griffin, highlights significant concerns about the state’s Chesapeake Bay Oyster Management Program. It says a Business as usual approach to rebuilding the business will not restore the oyster population and without more efforts and strategic planning the shellfish will disappear and watermen will lose their livelihoods.

Greater effort and strategic science-based plans are needed to preserve Maryland's oysters.

“Our preliminary efforts have laid the groundwork for a major rethinking of ecological and economic strategies to restore oysters in our Bay,” said OAC Chairman Bill Eichbaum. He hopes that DNR will explore the implementation of the Commission’s interim findings.

Strategic approach

In September Secretary Griffin appointed 21 scientists, watermen, anglers, businessmen, economists, environmental advocates and elected officials to serve on the Commission. It is charged with advising the state on matters relating to oysters and strategies for rebuilding and managing the oyster population in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay.

“We appreciate the Commission’s fresh perspective and honest look at the major challenges facing native oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and agree that we will not be successful by continuing the status quo,” said Griffin. “These preliminary findings and subsequent recommendations from the Commission will be used in concert with the pending Draft Environmental Impact Statement – due out this spring – to map out the future of oysters in Maryland.”

Dr. Donald Boesch, commission member and University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President, believes that finding a solution to restoring Maryland’s once vibrant oyster population requires us to investigate new approaches that provide oysters the best possible chance to thrive. “It is critical that any new oyster management measures are based on the best scientific understanding that we have,” he said.

Insufficient

Current oyster populations in Maryland’s portion of the Chesapeake Bay do not provide important ecological functions or sustain an economically viable fishery. The OAC report highlights the status of Maryland’s oyster population, oyster bar habitat, sanctuaries, public and private oyster fisheries, managed reserves, economics and enforcement of closed oyster areas. These findings include:

  • Oyster restoration is a critical component of restoring and preventing further degradation of our Bay. The State has a clear role in restoring the ecological function of an abundant and self-sustaining oyster population.

  • A successful self sustaining, ecologically strategic, and enforced large oyster sanctuary program is essential to restoring the ecological function of oysters in Chesapeake Bay.

  • More restrictive harvest measures, including a moratorium, alone will not restore oysters and their ecological benefits without a significant, sustained commitment of resources focused on rehabilitating natural oyster bars, significantly minimizing disease impacts, and addressing water quality issues throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

  • The State’s role in the oyster industry is to manage the resource sustainably and prevent overfishing. Every major oyster producing area in the world is based on some degree of privatization. It is possible for the State to provide incentives and resources to facilitate the transition of Maryland’s traditional state-private and largely “put-and-take” oyster fishery to a privatized industry.

  • Increase in annual funding from the current level of $5 million will be needed during at least the first 10 years to support a revitalized Maryland oyster restoration program that includes increased hatchery production, increased oyster bar habitat rehabilitation, population monitoring, oyster bar habitat mapping and characterization, research and enforcement.

”We all want a well managed fishery and recognise that change is needed, but we need to move ahead in a way that doesn’t leave the commercial oyster industry behind,” said Ben Parks, Commission and Maryland Watermen’s Association member. “If we all work together and implement a carefully planned transition, we can have both,” he added.

Further Reading

- You can view the full report by clicking here.

Ellen Hardy