The View of an Oyster Sanctuary
Presidential Executive Order on Reducing Regulations: How It Could Affect Chesapeake Bay Restoration

Marylanders Agree: Hands off Our Oyster Sanctuaries

With more than six million residents, Maryland is a melting pot of diverse citizens, with different political leanings, religious beliefs, and racial backgrounds. Differences aside, all Marylanders are affected by the health of the state's rivers, streams, and the Chesapeake Bay.

Integral to the health of the Bay is the mighty oyster. A keystone species of the Bay, a single adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water a day. In addition to their filtering prowess, oysters settle on one another and grow, forming reefs that provide shelter for other critters.

Despite their hallmark status in the Bay's ecosystem, the native oyster population is just a fraction of what it once was as a result of disease, pollution, and overharvesting. In 2010, Maryland and other Bay states joined together to increase the native oyster population, establishing sanctuary reefs to allow oysters to proliferate unencumbered by harvesting. These reefs grew and expanded, with the estimated number of oysters in the Bay more than doubling between 2010 and 2014.

A recent poll conducted by a bipartisan research team found Marylanders understand and appreciate this success, with overwhelming support to maintain existing Chesapeake Bay oyster sanctuaries.

The numbers speak for themselves:Oyster Poll Results Graphic-1200

This strong support exists across party lines, as approximately 91 percent of registered Democrats, 89 percent of Independents, and 82 percent of Republicans support sanctuaries. Moreover, public support for the sanctuaries actually increased after the survey summarized the oyster industry's reasons for wanting to expand harvesting, rising from 88 percent to 91 percent.

This consensus is quite a contrast to the recently submitted proposal by the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission to let the oyster industry harvest nearly 1,000 acres of oyster reefs which currently are off-limits to harvesting.

Currently, the Maryland General Assembly is considering a bill (HB 924) which would require the state to hold off on any alterations of the oyster sanctuaries until a scientific assessment of the oyster stock is completed in 2018.

The success of Maryland and the Bay, North America's largest estuary and a true national treasure, are mutually interdependent. Shaping more than just the state's coastline, Maryland's economy, culture, and history are covered with the Bay's fingerprints. No critter is more important to this success than the oyster. And while the recent State of the Bay report finds the health of the Bay is rebounding, it remains a system dangerously out of balance.

Those who call the Old Line State home might have their differences, but Marylanders across the board agree on this: Our oyster sanctuaries are worth protecting.

—Drew Robinson, CBF's Digital Media Associate

Take action right now to urge Maryland legislators to protect oyster sanctuaries and the value they provide to clean water and countless marine species.

Comments

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Rachel Dean

Today I saw a photograph of my crew and my boat used to push the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's agenda for oyster management. I'd like to give a different perspective.

For over a week, the CBF has been feverishly trying to gather support for a Maryland house bill that would prohibit altering the management of public oyster bars and oyster sanctuaries. My family and I hand tong, patent tong, dredge, and dive for oysters in the Solomons area. When the public fishery was consolidated and sanctuaries were established in 2010, we took it on the chin. I realize oysters are a public resource and like others in the industry I waited for the results of the 5 Year Sanctuary Review. When it was released last summer, I read it front to back and sat down with my local county oyster committee to consider our next step.
The review left opportunities to alter the management strategies of public fishery areas and sanctuaries, so we came up with a plan. It wasn't easy. It took two meetings to come up with something that we thought was reasonable. Our proposal had three parts. 1. We asked to return to the public fishery a sanctuary in the Bay that had shell and brood stock removed in 2012. (Most concerned citizens didn't realize this happened after sanctuaries were established; surprisingly it wasn't in the draft of the 5 Year Review either.) 2. We asked for a piece of bottom in the Bay that was ranked as a tier 3; a tier 3 is not considered productive oyster bottom. In return we offered to invest in these areas. These two areas would return to the public fishery as power dredge areas.
Because of the sentiment about power dredges, we found more support for the third part of our proposal. 3. We proposed returning a piece of oyster bottom in the upper Patuxent River to the public fishery. The area was traditionally a hand tong only area. In short, hand tongs are like using two 18' garden rakes to blindly scoop oysters from the bottom of the river. It's hard work and less efficient than a power dredge or patent tongs. It disturbs the bottom less.
We took our proposal to the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission in October. We presented our ideas and other oyster committees gathered their thoughts. We attended the next two OAC meetings, but nothing was discussed about our proposal. We waited patiently and began conversations with other stakeholders. We discussed oysters over dinner with representatives from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. We presented our proposal at the Patuxent River Commission. We met with local scientists from the Chesapeake Biological Lab and Morgan State University. They listened and offered suggestions. We wanted to do things the right way. All the while I was amazed that we were able to bring different perspectives and knowledge together for one purpose, a more sustainable oyster fishery.
As we discussed gear types, disease, spatfall, rotational harvest, and sustainability, the Department of Natural Resources was kept in the loop. DNR took our original proposal and suggested alterations based on other stakeholders' input. The outcome was a "strawman."
When DNR presented the strawman at the February meeting of the OAC, we were not surprised that our river would also have two new, albeit small, sanctuaries. We had already negotiated with another user group looking to protect oyster plantings.
Now, after eight months and countless meetings the draft of the strawman proposes altering one a portion of the upper Patuxent River sanctuary. It proposes to divide the area into 4 sections and it would be managed on a rotational harvest for hand tong only. Each area would open once every four years. I can't thank enough all of the players who have worked with the Calvert County Oyster Committee to come up with a plan for the future.
So why speak now? The Chesapeake Bay Foundation continues to push a house bill that would effectively stop all of the collaboration and work so many people have done. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is well represented at the OAC table, and I would hope they would respect the OAC enough to let the process continue to work.

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