If Maryland’s efforts to expand oyster sanctuaries in the Chesapeake Bay are to succeed, stepped up enforcement to prevent oyster poaching will be necessary, along with self-policing by watermen, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
The scientists studied 5,282 oyster harvesting citations in the Bay from 1959 to 2010. The researchers calculated that the average fine over the last decade was $179 –- which is the equivalent of only about half a day’s harvest, according to the report by Dr. Cythnia J. Bayshore, Dr. David Love, and colleagues.
This relatively low fine creates an “economic imbalance between the cost of getting caught for a violation and the potential economic benefit of harvesting a scarce natural resource,” the authors report.
To address this problem, the Maryland General Assembly last year passed laws to increase fines for oyster poaching. Governor Martin O’Malley’s administration has also expanded oyster sanctuaries to cover 24 percent of the remaining oyster reefs in Maryland’s section of the Bay.
Poaching has long been a significant problem in the Bay, with about 63 percent of sanctuary reefs protected by no-harvesting zones victimized by illegal harvesting. This estimate comes from a survey of 16 oyster reefs cited in the report.
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By Tom Pelton
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
(Photo from Chesapeake Bay Program)