Maryland Announces New Oyster Regulations

posted in: Commercial Fishing | 1

On May 21, 2010, Governor Martin O’Malley, stakeholders, fishery managers and scientists returned to the Annapolis Maritime Museum to announce the submission of new regulations that will clear the way for implementation of the State’s proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan.

Governor O’Malley announced the State’s plan to expand oyster sanctuaries and aquaculture leasing areas for their ecological and economic benefits at the site of Annapolis’ last shellfish packing business in December.

“Today we are on the verge of making history, as we stand on the threshold of implementing a plan that was called for by the very first oyster advisory commission in the 1800s, but was never achieved,” said Governor O’Malley.  “After decades of doing the same thing year after year, the citizens of Maryland are becoming united in the view that we need to change course and take bold action to rebuild our oyster population — both for their ecological values and for the jobs and economic impact that an expanded aquaculture industry will provide for Maryland families for generations to come.”

The submission of regulations to the General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review (AELR) is the next critical step in Maryland’s efforts to restore the Bay’s native oyster, build a robust and sustainable aquaculture industry and maintain a better managed public fishery.

As proposed, the regulations will:

§ Significantly increase the State’s network of oyster sanctuaries from 9% to 25%. They will be greater in number, larger in size, easier to enforce and established in the most appropriate areas based on scientific advice.

§ Identify 600,000 acres open to leasing for oyster aquaculture.

§ Identify areas off limits to leasing, allowing for continued support of a more targeted, sustainable, scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

The regulations will be published in the Maryland register July 2, which will begin a 6-week public comment and hearing period. If approved, the regulations will become effective in early September, prior to the October 1 start of oyster season.
“Since the Governor announced this groundbreaking proposal in December, we have worked diligently with legislators, local elected officials and all of our stakeholders — including members of the oyster industry, aquaculture interests, scientists, environmentalists, sport fishermen and citizens,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “This unprecedented public process resulted in more than 150 meetings, during which we made numerous adjustments to our proposal to address the concerns of our watermen while maintaining the integrity of the Governor’s plan.

“Once approved, these regulations will put into place our expanded sanctuary network and change existing regulations to encourage development of aquaculture in Maryland –- and the hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars it will eventually bring to our State,” said Governor O’Malley.  “Maryland watermen will have an opportunity to significantly expand their incomes while continuing to work a more scientifically managed public fishery.”

Today’s announcement was commended by the Federal government, environmentalists, scientists, aquaculture interests, anglers and citizen oyster growers.

“Chesapeake Bay oysters are both a foundation of a healthy bay ecosystem and an important economic resource for local communities around the Bay,” said NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco.  “Restoring oysters requires innovative thinking, ecosystem-based planning and collaborative action.  I want to applaud Governor O’Malley, his staff at the Department of Natural Resources and others across the Bay region for this action and look forward to helping in its implementation.”

“The Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan is based on a solid scientific foundation in setting a long-needed, new course to rebuild and manage Maryland’s native oyster populations,” said University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science President Dr. Donald Boesch. “It also advances economic production through aquaculture, bringing us more in line with virtually all other economically viable oyster-growing regions in the world.”

“These regulations give us the tools we need to streamline the Aquaculture Industry in Maryland, making us one of the most progressive states in the nation,” said Don Webster, Extension Specialist with the University of Maryland and former Chair of the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.  “Expanding oysters through innovative management and partnerships under the new State plan will provide important economic, employment and environmental benefits.”

“The Governor’s plan to increase sanctuary reefs and promote aquaculture will set us on a course to dramatically increase the oyster population. In doing so, we will see both ecological and economic benefits – something that is long over due,” said Chesapeake Bay Foundation President William C Baker. “History has shown that strong science-based regulations are essential – just consider the restoration of the rockfish population and the dramatic increase in the blue crab population.  CBF thanks Governor O’Malley for his leadership.”

While declines in our oyster populations are not solely the result of a failure to embrace aquaculture, economic contributions to the traditional industry have not created a stable fishery.  In fact, these contributions, which once produced a net economic benefit of $146 million over 10 years, are now projected to produce a net economic loss of $64 million over the same period.

Since 1994, the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has languished at one percent of historic levels; quality oyster bars have decreased 70% from 200,000 to 36,000 (70% decrease) and the number of harvesters has dwindled from 2,000 in the mid 1980s to just over 500 annually since 2002. Today there are only eight oyster processing companies in Maryland, down from 58 in 1974.

Based on last season’s harvest reports, it is estimated the new sanctuaries will reduce the public oyster fishery by 10 to 15 percent, a gross economic impact of approximately $350,000 to $500,000.

Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development plan is built on the findings of a six-year Environmental Impact Study of oyster restoration options, and the work of the Oyster Advisory Commission and the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.

In January 2009, Governor O’Malley sponsored aquaculture legislation to streamline the regulatory process and open new areas to leasing to promote growth of that industry, lessen pressure on wild oysters and provide alternative economic opportunities for watermen.

A summary of the proposed regulations can be found at

source: DNR press release

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