Oys­ter study bill passes

Record Observer - - News - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com

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.

Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ jbol­l_s­tar­dem.

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