On December 3, 2009, Governor Martin O’Malley released the details of Maryland’s Proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, a new multi-faceted effort to rebuild Maryland’s decimated native oyster population. The plan will build on efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and expand oyster sanctuaries and aquaculture leasing opportunities. Joined by scientists, environmental advocates, aquaculture entrepreneurs, industry representatives, recreational fishermen and State officials, the Governor made the announcement at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, the former site of Annapolis’ last shellfish packing business, McNasby’s Oyster Company, which closed in 1987.
“Today we are announcing a 3-step plan that will simultaneously help us restore the Chesapeake Bay, bring back our native oyster, and create new jobs and economic activity in our state,” said Governor O’Malley. “Our native oyster is part of the public trust, and we have a clear and urgent responsibility to restore this iconic species to the Chesapeake Bay. Today marks a critical next step in our efforts to rebuild the population for ecological and economic benefits. By some projections, today’s actions could contribute as much as $25 million to Maryland’s economy and create over 200 jobs.”
“Governor O’Malley is proposing to do for oysters what he did for blue crabs. Bravo. This plan will bring more oysters to the Bay. That will be good for the ecology and good for the economy. Oyster lovers will benefit and so will the seafood industry, with more jobs and prosperity. What a win for everyone,” said Will Baker, president of CBF.
The plan is designed to enhance oyster restoration for ecological purposes and encourage the development of aquaculture businesses, while continuing to support a more targeted and sustainable public oyster fishery. As proposed, it will:
1. Significantly increase Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9% to 24% of remaining quality habitat — as well as the State’s ability to enforce them. Sanctuaries allow oysters to live longer, spawn without harvest pressure and, over time, develop natural resistance to disease. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is also undertaking a number of enforcement reforms, including a collaborative effort with federal partners to install a network of radars and cameras that will help Natural Resources Police monitor oyster sanctuaries and prevent poaching.
2. Increase areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamline the permitting process. This is based on the legislation Governor O’Malley sponsored in 2009, and will include the opening of 95,524 acres of natural oyster bars to leasing.
3. Identify areas off limits to leasing. This proposal will maintain 167,720 acres of natural oyster bars for the wild oyster fishery, including 76% of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat. This will allow for continued support of a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.
“By opening up these areas for oyster aquaculture, we estimate there could be up to 150 oyster aquaculture operations in Maryland in the short term — more if we can expand the market for Maryland oysters,” explained the Governor.
In January 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. This legislation was developed with broad stakeholder involvement and passed overwhelmingly in the General Assembly this year. Aquaculture is now the predominant means of shellfish harvesting around the world.
“Maryland is the steward of the Chesapeake Bay and we need to continue to act to protect our State’s crown jewel,” said Speaker Michael E. Busch. “The Governor and the General Assembly have taken substantial steps to protect the Chesapeake Bay and this is another important way to return the Bay to its full prosperity.”
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.
The 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.
“The plan takes major steps in the right direction of rebuilding the native oyster populations, restoring the ecological benefits of their reefs, and transitioning economic production to aquaculture,” said Dr. Donald Boesch, President of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and a member of the Oyster Advisory Commission said. As such, it is consistent with the consensus of university scientists, as well as the Advisory Commission that large sanctuary areas and improved opportunities for privatized oyster production are required.”
“Today’s announcement is taking a significant step forward to dramatically enhance our oyster population. Not unlike the 40 stakeholder groups who participated in the 1993 Oyster Roundtable, many of these same groups will need to work together again to establish and successfully implement a balanced strategy to return the oyster to its economic, ecologic and cultural importance to Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay,” said Ken Binnix, founding chairman and current Board of Directors member of the now 15-year-old Oyster Recovery Partnership, the facilitating organization for oyster restoration in Maryland
“Today’s announcement launches an extensive public outreach process designed to give all stakeholders as well as the general public ample opportunity understand and offer input on this proposal before February, when our plan will be proposed in regulation,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin.
“When the Governor visited us last year he readily understood the benefits that shellfish aquaculture brings to economic growth and employment while aiding the environment through bio-filtration and nutrient transfer,” said Steve Gordon, operator of Gordon’s Shellfish in Snow Hill. “We’ve seen shellfish aquaculture growing across the country. Maryland has good growing areas, access to markets and now, strong support from the highest levels of government.”
“If we are ever to achieve our goal for a revitalized oyster population we must act now, and science tells us that this is the best way to begin rebuilding a sustainable, robust population,’’ said Governor O’Malley. “With the continued leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski and our Congressional Delegation, as well as our State Legislature — who together have been instrumental in securing federal blue crab disaster funds and state capital funds — we will change the future for our native oyster and the Chesapeake Bay.”
The proposal and additional information are available online at www.dnr.maryland.gov/fisheries.
source: DNR press release