Oys­ter sanc­tu­ary, study bill moves through leg­is­la­ture

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

AN­NAPO­LIS — Con­tention sur­rounds a bill in the leg­is­la­ture that would re­strict the state Depart­ment of Nat­u­ral Re­sources (DNR) from chang­ing bound­aries of an oys­ter sanc­tu­ary un­til a study on Maryland’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion is re­leased.

The state’s Oys­ter Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion (OAC), which makes rec­om­men­da­tions on oys­ter man­age­ment to DNR, in Fe­bru­ary re­leased a rec­om­men­da­tion that iden­ti­fies five ar­eas cur­rently un­der sanc­tu­ary sta­tus and partly opens them to a ro­ta­tional har­vest sched­ule.

The bill, House Bill 924, stops that rec­om­men­da­tion from tak­ing place un­til at least De­cem­ber 2018, when a study and stock as­sess­ment on Maryland’s oys­ter pop­u­la­tion is due to be re­leased.

Op­po­nents of the bill say it sub­verts the work of the OAC, which is made up of sci­en­tists, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives, law­mak­ers and cit­i­zens and is said to be bal­anced in in­ter­ests.

Pro­po­nents of the bill say they don’t want to see harm come to sanc­tu­ar­ies by means of har­vest, and that the state should wait for the stock as­sess­ment re­port to be re­leased so reg­u­la­tors can have as much in­for­ma­tion be­fore them on which to base a de­ci­sion.

Kel­ley Cox, co-chair­man of the OAC and ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Phillips Wharf En­vi­ron­men­tal Cen­ter on Til­gh­man Island, said work on the OAC takes some give and take. While there are ar­gu­ments at the meet­ings, the com­mis­sion is fi­nally start­ing to go in a pos­i­tive di­rec­tion and come to con­sen­sus on is­sues, she said.

“We know that it takes give and take and we’re fi­nally get­ting there, and I’m a lit­tle dis­mayed that there are peo­ple who aren’t pa­tient enough to wait for us to do our work and there’s peo­ple who need to dic­tate what needs to be done,” Cox said. “Some of these ar­eas could ac­tu­ally be brought back re­ally well with ro­ta­tional har­vest and in­vest­ment in them from the in­dus­try and other stake­hold­ers.”

Tak­ing a look at the state’s sanc­tu­ary bound­aries was one of the OAC’s charges when re­in­stated in July 2016, said Al­li­son Cordell, a leg­isla­tive of­fi­cer with DNR, which is op­posed to the bill.

Cordell and oth­ers against the bill in a hear­ing be­fore the Se­nate Ed­u­ca­tion, Health and En­vi­ron­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee on Thurs­day, March 23, ques­tioned what point there would be for the OAC to meet on the is­sue, should the leg­is­la­ture de­cide to in­ter­ject it­self in an is­sue that the com­mis­sion has worked hard over long meet­ings to come to a con­sen­sus on.

“HB 924 is an at­tempt to dic­tate one view point, in­stead of al­low­ing the process con­tinue to­ward con­sen­sus build­ing,” Cordell said. “The OAC is dis­cussing ways to get more oys­ters in the Bay, not how to take more out.”

DNR Shell­fish Man­ager Chris Judy said there are cur­rently 51 sanc­tu­ary ar­eas in Maryland wa­ters. The ro­ta­tional har­vest pro­posal is a lim­ited ap­proach, he said, fo­cus­ing on small parts of five sanc­tu­ary ar­eas that haven’t seen much in­vest­ment and are “largely un­der­pop­u­lated now” with “low lev­els of re­pro­duc­tion.”

“Th­e­ses pro­posed ar­eas are un­der­pop­u­lated, not re­pro­duc­ing very well; they need help,” Judy said. “So the idea is to plant seed oys­ter in them, boost the pop­u­la­tion, not har­vest all of them, and the end point in the de­sign ... would be an el­e­vated oys­ter pop­u­la­tion in these de­pressed ar­eas.”

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