Bill would keep oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies off lim­its

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

EAS­TON — A bill in the state leg­is­la­ture would pre­vent the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources from open­ing any oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies in state wa­ters un­til the depart­ment de­vel­ops a plan for the sci­en­tific man­age­ment of the state’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion.

The Oys­ter Ad­vi­sor y Com­mis­sion, charged by the state to make rec­om­men­da­tions on the oys­ter pop­u­la­tion, re­cently pro­posed to re­vise the state’s oys­ter man­age­ment plan to es­tab­lish a ro­ta­tional har­vest sys­tem, which would open some ar­eas cur­rently un­der sanc­tu­ary sta­tus to har­vest.

This leg­isla­tive ses­sion, state law­mak­ers sub­mit­ted House Bill 924, which would pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing un­til the Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources conducts a stock as­sess­ment study and de­ter­mines if the pub­lic oys­ter fish­ery is op­er­at­ing within the bi­o­log­i­cal ref­er­ence points.

Ac­cord­ing to the bill’s main spon­sor, Del. Jim Gilchrist, D-17-Mont­gomery, the study is un­der way along­side the Univer­sity of Mary­land Cen­ter for En­vi­ron­men­tal Science and is sched­uled for com­ple­tion by the end of next year.

The bill passed by a 102-39 mar­gin in the House on Thurs­day, March 16. It is now on its way to the Se­nate for con­sid­er­a­tion.

Water­men have con­cerns over the leg­is­la­tion. As work­ers of the water who have strug­gled to make a liv­ing in re­cent years with di­min­ish­ing oys­ter pop­u­la­tions, cou­pled with the es­tab­lish­ment of large-scale oys­ter sanc­tu­ar­ies on the Mid-Shore in 2010, they have lob­bied for a ro­ta­tional har­vest schedule in an ef­fort to win back some ground to work.

Last year, a five-year study on the sanc­tu­ar­ies was re­leased, and the study was to give some di­rec­tion to reg­u­la­tors and leg­is­la­tors as to where to move for­ward on oys­ter restora­tion ef­forts. Also last year, the state leg­is­la­ture passed a bill call­ing for a two-year study on the state’s en­tire oys­ter stock.

The sanc­tuar y-re­lated rec­om­men­da­tion from the Oys­ter Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion, re­in­stated last year to ad­vise DNR, came in mid-Fe­bru­ary, although dis­cus­sion of a ro­ta­tional har­vest were present be­fore then. Shortly be­fore the of­fi­cial re­lease of the rec­om­men­da­tion, law­mak­ers in­tro­duced a bill, House Bill 924, in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion that essen­tially pre­vents DNR from es­tab­lish­ing a ro­ta­tional har­vest sys­tem with cur­rent sanc­tu­ar­ies and pub­lic fish­eries un­til the DNR and UMCES study is re­leased, and science can guide de­ci­sion-mak­ing fur­ther.

But some law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing Del. Johnny Mautz, R-37B-Tal­bot, and Del. Chris Adams, R-37B-Wi­comico, ar­gued what the pur­pose of the Oys­ter Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion is, if House Bill 924 is passed.

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