Watermen have been pressing state officials at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to allow oyster harvesting within oyster sanctuaries. DNR is entertaining proposals that would change the boundaries of sanctuaries and open them to harvest. This is contrary to what scientific study tells us will replenish oysters and improve water quality in the Chesapeake Bay. The solution is to rebuild the oyster population, not remove the few that are left. Opening sanctuaries to rotational harvest makes a mockery of the word sanctuary!
Although the science is still developing, preliminary results show that sanctuaries are working. One hundred percent of areas in the Harris Creek sanctuary are already meeting restoration metrics. We must not and should not ignore the science. DNR should be consistent with the science and increase sanctuary areas.
The conversation should be about long-term solutions rather than harvesting every last oyster as soon as possible.
That long-term fix is exactly what the sanctuary program is working to achieve by increasing the population of oysters, protecting those oysters so they can reproduce, and allowing those protected oysters to fertilize surrounding public fishery areas. By harvesting all the adult oysters and not maintaining their protections, we compromise the opportunity to have a stock of oysters that will continue to reproduce.
DNR has invited proposals that would reduce the amount of protected oyster bars to the bare minimum previously committed for protection by the state. By putting forth minimum effort, we can expect only minimal results.
Many people in many different sectors around the bay are working hard to see improvements in their local waters. We should all ask and expect that DNR be a leader in this effort. DNR should be working toward a long-term solution that will give long-term ecological and economic benefits. Rather than bowing to political pressure exerted by a small minority of its constituents, DNR should be representing the interests of the vast majority of its constituents who want healthy, robust, oyster populations and a clean Chesapeake Bay!
Make your voice heard. The next Oyster Advisory Commission meeting is on Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis. Come and make a difference!
Matt Pluta, Easton
The writer is the Choptank Riverkeeper.