“My concern is that the Oyster Advisory Commission and the Department of Natural Resources is moving forward, is concerned with the health of the Bay, but also the sustainability of the oyster industry and the sanctuaries,” Adams said, “and here comes the legislature after this has been a very productive process and saying, ‘Well, no, the five year study is not enough.”
Adams and Mautz tried to add amendments to the bill on Wednesday, before its passage in the House on Thursday. Both amendments were voted down.
Adams’ amendment would have increased the amount of bushels of oyster shell given for seeding and shelling of public fishery bottom from 200,000 to 250,000, which would bolster the work done by watermen in the off season.
The amendment Mautz offered would have authorized DNR to create an alternative management plan, similar to Virginia’s model, which was found to be a successful management strategy, he said.
It would have allowed a limited and periodic harvest of oysters from beds in sanctuaries, in an effort to work the bottom, which watermen say pulls oysters up from being buried too far on the bottom and reduces the amount of silt that covers oysters.
“This amendment is intended to help restore oyster bars in sanctuaries at a low cost to the state,” Matuz said. “It’s modeled on Virginia’s oyster management plan, which has proven to be successful.”
The amendment specified oysters would be allowed to be harvested only in limited numbers and for a limited number of days, a week or two, once every three or four years. Mautz stressed that the amendment would function on a limited basis, sympathetic to the concept of not touching areas once they are put into oyster sanctuary.
However, in debates on the House floor Wednesday, Gilchrist called the amendment outside the scope of the bill. But he said it could make for a piece of legislation in the General Assembly next year, as it is past the deadline for submitting new legislation.
Mautz said the five-year study released last year showed some of the sanctuaries haven’t been doing as well as some would hope. He said about half the sanctuaries that haven’t seen investment under the state’s oyster sanctuary restoration goals are showing a diminishing abundance of oysters.
“While we wait two more years, it seems to be logical that we would give the department the authority or the direction to take the lead on trying to find ways to improve these sanctuaries, because if we wait two more years, they’re going to continue to deteriorate from silting and other sorts of things,” Mautz said.
“It’s a huge problem. The longer we wait, the more it’s going to cost us in the long run,” he said.
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