A healthy oyster reef. Photo by Dave Harp.
Just as oysters are staging a comeback, Governor Hogan's Administration has moved to suspend oyster restoration.
As reported after Christmas by the Star Democrat, the Hogan Administration asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to cease its already agreed to oyster restoration efforts on the Tred Avon River. Reportedly, at the request of certain watermen, the Hogan Administration no longer wants the Army Corps to follow through with restoration work underway, but instead wants to cease all work and wait for the results of a pending study before deciding if it will move forward with the restoration.
Deferring to the Hogan Administration request, the Army Corps agreed to the delay, the Star Democrat reported Jan. 7. The action will stall one of the biggest restoration projects in the state likely for more than a year.
We know the Hogan Administration wants to help commercial oyster harvesters. So do we. Based on available science, we firmly believe that restoration efforts are improving wild oyster production and harvest.
The restoration planned for Tred Avon will benefit everyone, boosting oyster reproduction, attracting fish, and cleaning currently heavily polluted water. Oysters are a common resource to be protected for all—not just for one group's economic gain.
We understand the watermen's concerns. Generally, they oppose the creation of sanctuary areas like the Tred Avon where they can't harvest. It is worth noting that a University of Maryland study a few years ago called for a complete closure of the fishery as a conservation measure. In deference to watermen, Maryland maintains 76 percent of all oyster bars open to harvest, and we support that.
And even with the sanctuaries in place, harvest increased five-fold over the last five years. The 24 percent of bars that are closed as sanctuaries should stay that way to provide important ecological benefits, to help build the population, and to stabilize the fishery.
As reported by the Star Democrat, a handful of watermen leaders convinced the governor to delay the Tred Avon project with "new data" on the effectiveness of restoration efforts.
The first problem with this delay request is no "new data" exist. The state's fall oyster survey is still being analyzed, and no data are yet available even to state managers. According to the Corps of Engineers, what information is available indicates restoration has, "resulted in healthy oyster populations and reef habitat."
The delay of the Tred Avon work also violates consensus. In designing the project, the Army Corps was sensitive to local concerns. The Corps even modified the plans last year to satisfy local watermen. The watermen and the Hogan Administration were part of the consensus and agreed to this modification. Asking now to stop the project entirely, goes against the consensus decision and disregards an open public process.
The biggest concern we have with this delay request is that it reveals a bias by the Hogan Administration against restoring oysters on sanctuary bars. If the administration believes work related to oysters should wait until the five-year review of Maryland's oyster plan is finished in July, why wouldn't the administration call for a delay in ALL parts of Maryland's oyster plan, including oyster harvesting?
Oysters are making such an encouraging comeback now, leading to cleaner, healthier waters. But these water-filtering, reef-building bivalves still face considerable challenges. Political moves designed to appease a small minority opposed to oyster sanctuaries shouldn’t be another hurdle oysters need to overcome.
To delay oyster restoration based on unsubstantiated data is not in Maryland's best interest. The majority of Marylanders want oyster restoration work to continue.
CBF's Director of Fisheries
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