Mary­land oys­ter beds are threat­ened again

Record Observer - - News -

ANNAPOLIS—The Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Foun­da­tion (CBF) is call­ing for the Ho­gan Ad­min­is­tra­tion to fol­low good sci­ence, and to al­low oys­ter restoration to con­tinue as planned in the state. CBF is pre­pared to an­a­lyze the Ad­min­is­tra­tion’s lon­gawaited re­view of the state’s oys­ter man­age­ment plan which is ex­pected to be re­leased Fri­day, July 29.

“Oys­ters have been one of the real pos­i­tive news sto­ries in re­cent years. Gover­nor Ho­gan has an op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue this progress by re-af­firm­ing the man­age­ment of oys­ters through sci­ence,” said Ali­son Prost, Mary­land Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of CBF. “We’ve in­vested in a sound oys­ter pro­gram. We must let it con­tinue to work. Dis­re­gard­ing the en­cour­ag­ing re­sults of our restoration work to date would not be in the best in­ter­est of the health of the Bay or the sus­tain­abil­ity of the fish­ery.”

Mark Bel­ton, Sec­re­tary of the De­part­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DNR), has said he will release the re­view of the state’s oys­ter man­age­ment pro­gram on Fri­day, July 29. The re­view will eval­u­ate the first five years of the state’s pro­gres­sive pro­gram, which has three parts. First ap­proved in 2009, the pro­gram: 1) added some sanc­tu­ary reefs where oys­ters can’t be har­vested 2) in­creased po­ten­tial in­come for water­men and oth­ers who want to farm oys­ters and 3) com­mit­ted to find a path to sus­tain­able oys­ter har­vest­ing.

Bel­ton has sug­gested pub­licly that changes in the plan could be worth con­sid­er­ing, such as open­ing some sanc­tu­ary oys­ter reefs to har­vest­ing.

CBF be­lieves sci­ence must dic­tate any changes to the pro­gram. As it re­views the 900-page re­view doc­u­ment and data, CBF will look for sci­en­tific ev­i­dence to jus­tify any changes. CBF in­sists that sev­eral im­por­tant facts be con­sid­ered be­fore any de­ci­sions are made to change oys­ter man­age­ment. Th­ese facts in­clude:

· The pro­gram is in its in­fancy— only five years old—barely enough time to get started. Long-term, the best way to grow the oys­ter pop­u­la­tion is to help oys­ters re­pro­duce nat­u­rally. The sci­ence is clear: the best way to do that is build large reef systems off-lim­its to har­vest. And then give na­ture time to work.

· Mary­land and its fed­eral and non-profit part­ners have com­pleted the largest man-made oys­ter reef in the Bay, and two other sim­i­larly large reefs are un­der con­struc­tion. Th­ese large reefs are ex­pected to be­come dy­namos for grow­ing the area’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion. They will spread lar­vae for miles which will pop­u­late far-flung reefs. This will ben­e­fit the har­vest, and the ecosys­tem.

· Small sanc­tu­ary reefs have not had time enough (or help from the state) to re­cov­ery after decades of har­vest­ing, disease and poor wa­ter qual­ity. It makes no sense to open them to har­vest, es­pe­cially since the har­vest would be mea­ger, and the struc­ture of the reefs would be fur­ther dam­aged, set­ting their re­cov­ery yet fur­ther back.

· Har­vest­ing ev­ery few years on a sanc­tu­ary reef is not ac­cept­able, since the har­vest­ing tech­nol­ogy still de­stroys the reef struc­ture. Ro­ta­tional har­vest­ing could be con­sid­ered for oys­ter bars where har­vest­ing al­ready is per­mit­ted, and that have been de­pleted of oys­ters. This ap­proach would give those pub­lic reefs some time to re­cover be­tween har­vests.

Mary­land has 51 sanc­tu­ary reefs rep­re­sent­ing about 24 per­cent of its ex­ist­ing oys­ter reefs. The re­main­ing three-quar­ters of all reefs al­ready are open to har­vest.

As part of the re­cent Ch­e­sa­peake Bay Agree­ment, Mary­land com­mit­ted to sig­nif­i­cantly ex­pand five sanc­tu­ary reefs by 2025. Har­ris Creek, a trib­u­tary of the Chop­tank River, was the first mega-reef com­pleted. Other large reefs are un­der con­struc­tion in the Lit­tle Chop­tank River and the Tred Avon River. Sci­en­tists say when the reefs are fully func­tion­ing years from now they will spur oys­ter growth far be­yond their boundaries.

Yet here, too, CBF sees wor­ry­ing signs that the Ho­gan Ad­min­is­tra­tion might change course. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion sud­denly stopped the Tred Avon River oys­ter restoration pro­ject last win­ter, after a pri­vate meet­ing with three water­men rep­re­sen­ta­tives. The Ad­min­is­tra­tion said the pro­ject would be de­layed un­til the best sci­ence was avail­able to judge its progress. The best avail­able ev­i­dence sub­se­quently was made pub­lic, and all in­di­ca­tions are the large reef projects, in­clud­ing the Tred Avon, are work­ing.

The Com­mis­sion could make a rec­om­men­da­tion on the fu­ture of the Tred Avon pro­ject as early as next Monday, Aug. 1.

CON­TRIB­UTED PHOTO

Jena rid­ing Gam­bler, with the help of vol­un­teers Bernie Miller, horse leader, and side walk­ers Mary Jane Wyant, left, and Bon­nie Wa­ger right.

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