Oyster study bill passes
ANNAPOLIS — Amendments to an oyster fishery-related bill that passed on the last day of Maryland’s legislative session sought to address some concerns from watermen and lawmakers who represent them, which they expressed in hearings leading up to the bill’s passage.
Under the bill, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), as part of its fishery management plan for oysters, and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science (UMCES) will conduct a study to perform a stock assessment on the state’s oyster population and develop a biological reference point.
The two entities will the identify “objective and measurable means to determine if the public oyster fishery is operating within the biological reference points,” the bill reads.
The study is then slated to undergo peer review before the DNR is ordered to — in a public process — collaborate with the commercial oyster industry, conservation organizations and other stakeholders in the fishery to identify management “to address the maintenance of a sustainable oyster population and fishery,” the bill reads.
DNR is ordered to submit to the governor, Oyster Advisory Commission and legislature a final report by Dec. 1, 2018, with interim reports due each year before on the same day.
Lawmakers who represent watermen — including some Eastern Shore lawmakers — have lobbied against the bill since its introduction, as have dozens of watermen in committee hearings in both the Senate and House.
One of the biggest concerns was that the language previously in the bill would lead UMCES to a predetermined disposition, since the bill’s language heavily highlighted finding sustainable harvest rates to see if the population is being overfished. UMCES originally was the only entity conducting the study, but DNR lobbied to lead it in a House committee hearing before the amendment was added.
Watermen feared the study could lead to burdensome regulations on the commercial oyster industry, and Maryland Watermen’s Association President Robert Brown said in a House committee hearing that he’d feel more comfortable if DNR took the lead on the study, rather than UMCES.
Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37BTalbot, said Monday before the bill’s passage in the House that one of the biggest concerns is whether watermen will have a seat at the table. It is now written in the bill that commercial watermen will be involved in any management decisions that stem from the study.
Mautz also said watermen are still concerned about another study on the fishery, despite the amendments.
Another argument used by opponents was that a study isn’t needed, considering the upcoming release of a five-year study by DNR on the effectiveness of the state’s oyster sanctuaries.
A proponent of the bill said on the House floor Monday that DNR and UMCES will use the five-year sanctuary study, which is due in July, and fold the findings into the upcoming stock assessment in the development of the biological reference point.
Proponents of the bill have said throughout the legislative session that a study on the oyster population is nec- essary in order to apply a more scientific approach to oyster fishery management.
The bill now heads to Gov. Larry Hogan for his signature.
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