Oyster ProblemsIn a recent Opinion*Commentary article, Frank...


Oyster Problems

In a recent Opinion*Commentary article, Frank Gray asserted that the decline of the oyster industry is due to the failure of the state to encourage private oyster culture and that the industry could be revived if private leasing of the public beds were allowed. He also stated that little is done to permit leasing in Maryland.

Without question, private leasing has had a difficult history in Maryland. There has always been opposition from watermen to the idea of relinquishing public oyster bars to private citizens for personal gain because they feared large corporations controlling the leases.

In spite of this history, however, Maryland has developed an active leasing program. Numerous laws and regulations, in existence for decades, permit leasing of the bay bottom for oyster culture by any state resident.

The leaseholder can lease up to 30 acres in tributaries and 500 acres in the main bay if the bottom meets certain criteria, primarily that it is not a natural oyster or clam bar. In other words, it must be barren bottom.

This is the bottom that Mr. Gray believes is now inaccessible to leaseholders. In fact, this is the very bottom that is available for leasing.

Some counties have prohibitions on the issue of new leases, but previously leased bottom can be transferred to a new leaseholder. The rent to hold a lease is only $3.50 per acre per year and the lease is good for 20 years. Currently there are just under 1,000 leases totaling about 10,000 leased acres.

We actively encourage leasing by providing seed oysters for sale to leaseholders at cost, at a price that is far below the market price for seed oysters imported from out-of-state hatcheries . . .

Though Maryland has these programs, production from private grounds is minimal to non-existent now, compared to previous times.

The single most significant impediment to private production is the presence of two oyster parasites (MSX and dermo). They can wipe out the population on a bar, eliminating any chance for the planter to make a profit . . .

Private growers in West River, Nanticoke River and Magothy River, historically active lease areas, have reported extensive losses to disease. Investments in seed oysters ranging from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands of dollars have been lost.

No private grower can afford such losses. This is why of the 1,000 leases, less than half a dozen are being planted now. Private oyster production is at a standstill due to MSX and dermo, not because the state has discouraged leasing.

As a result, private oyster culture offers little in the way of a solution to the problems of the industry in Maryland . . .

The promise of a $100 million private culture industry is unrealistic and the accusation that the state is impeding this is false. Just the opposite is true. The state does not require payment of lease rents where oyster diseases prevent production . . .

The key driving force behind the decline of Maryland's public oyster harvest is also disease mortality . . .

Mortality rates of 50 percent and greater have crippled the production capacity of key harvest areas . . . Outbreaks of the early 1980s reduced harvests from an average of 2.4 million bushels to about 1.1 million bushels. The outbreaks during the summers of 1986 and 1987 were equally dramatic. Harvest fell from a strong 1.5 million bushels to only 363,259 bushels two seasons later. The average harvest since has been about 380,000 bushels per year.

During these periods oyster reproduction was generally very successful, particularly in the diseased areas. If not for MSX and dermo, harvests should have remained between 1 and 2 million bushels and would likely be there today.

MSX or dermo can be found on most of Maryland's oyster bars, public and private. There is no known cure . . . It is significant that Maryland's public fishery has maintained a harvest (although reduced from historic levels), while neighboring states that relied on private harvests have not maintained a harvest.

W. P. Jensen


The writer is Maryland director of fisheries.

We should expect and welcome a vigorous debate over the social and ethical issues involved in Norplant being offered to teen-agers. In the heat of debate, however, unnecessary concern has been created by misinformation and rumors on its medical and health aspects.

The Population Council developed the science and technology of Norplant, conducted the clinical trials and analyzed the data that led to Food and Drug Administration approval.

We developed Norplant to expand the choice of contraceptives available to women. This method contains the same hormone that has been used for decades in widely distributed oral contraceptives in this country. The difference with Norplant is that the dosage of hormone is lower than the pill's, the method contains no estrogen, and the drug is slowly released from the capsules over years, rather than swallowed daily. Our studies of this kind of estrogen implant contraception began in 1966.

Norplant has been used by more than 1.8 million women worldwide. It was tested in clinical trials in four industrialized countries (Denmark, Finland, Sweden and the U.S.) and in four countries from the South (Brazil, Chile, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica). More studies were made prior to introduction in other settings. These have involved over 30,000 volunteers in 44 countries.

Norplant is now approved by regulatory agencies in 24 countries. The first country approval, in 1983, was in Finland, where Norplant is manufactured. Women use Norplant in every region of the world; in all our research, there have been no differences in reactions to Norplant due to race, ethnicity, or age.

The clinical trials in the U.S. were conducted with a diverse population at three hospital clinics in Los Angeles, San Francisco and New Brunswick, N.J. The more than 1,000 volunteers in this study included women from many ethnic and racial backgrounds and different levels of education and income. Norplant is safe for women who are free of these conditions: pregnancy, blood clots, undiagnosed genital bleeding, acute liver disease, known or suspected cancer of the breast.

None of the side effects associated with Norplant use is serious. Since the method contains no progestin, the most common side effect is irregular bleeding. Other side effects, such as headache or weight gain, are common to hormonal methods. Long-term use does not expose women to risk of diabetes or hypertension; women who have these illnesses before using Norplant should have routine medical checkups.

Norplant can be used by teen-agers who have normal menstrual cycles and none of the above contraindications. Norplant is as medically appropriate for teen-agers as other hormonal methods.

While the focus at this time in Baltimore is on adolescents, many of whom are African-American, it is wrong to assert that Norplant is being targeted for poor women of color. The distributor of Norplant in the U.S. informs us that 500,000 sets have been sold, 60 percent to private physicians. Norplant is being widely accepted as a contraceptive option by women of all ages and backgrounds.

We strongly believe at the Population Council that the decision to use Norplant, or any other contraceptive, should be based on voluntary informed choice. Norplant is not a perfect method, but it is a good one. It is not every woman's choice, but it is the choice of many. While no woman should be forced to use a contraceptive against her will, neither should she be deprived of the right to decide for herself.

As the debate has proceeded we have listened to Baltimore's teen-agers. We hope that this product may indeed help some of them cope with the difficult issues they face, and improve their chances to the better life so many of them are seeking.

Margaret Catley-Carlson

New York

The writer is president of the Population Council.

Facing Death with Dignity

Lillibeth Navarro's March 10 article was eloquent and impassioned. It had some misunderstandings.

The most important problem is presented in her first paragraph, where she states that the bills currently before our legislature "intend to legalize euthanasia or mercy-killing." A more careful reading of these bills shows that this is simply incorrect.

Active euthanasia and mercy-killing are specifically outlawed in the bills.

From my perspective the question is quite different.

Imagine first you lose the ability to think and communicate. This might happen due to Alzheimer's disease, major strokes or head injury. You are unable to understand questions and unable to communicate your wishes.

In addition, imagine that you develop a life-threatening disease -- cancer, major hemorrhage, overwhelming pneumonia. Imagine also that there are treatments that could prolong your life, but that these treatments are painful or nauseating or disfiguring or otherwise burdensome.

If you get treatment, you will live longer, but after you recover you'll still be unable to think or communicate. You won't have understood why the people around you are doing what they are doing, and it may well have been painful and pretty terrifying.

On the other hand, without treatment you may die sooner, but the people around you will be much better able to focus on assuring your comfort and, yes, your dignity. How should we make decisions when the only choices available to us are essentially tragic? It is this question that the bills before the legislature attempt to address.

Both bills assume that families in Maryland can, in conjunction with physicians, make intelligent and compassionate decisions about the people they love when those people can no longer speak for themselves.

The bills also assume that many of us can imagine for ourselves situations where we would choose not to undergo every single possible treatment that might prolong our life.

Under current Maryland law the right of families to refuse life-sustaining treatment is extremely limited. Those of us who take care of patients know that families are overwhelmingly well-intentioned and extremely important.

I believe those choices should both be available to people who are incapacitated, and that their families should help make the decision.

This points to the second important misunderstanding in Ms. Navarro's article. She describes the comfortable and dignified death. She says, "To have interfered with his dying in any way would have violated his dignity as a man."

But it may well be that her grandfather's life could have been prolonged by some of medicine's aggressive technology. In that case, does Ms. Navarro feel that failing to put him on machines was a form of mercy-killing?

Thomas E. Finucane, M.D.


Bravo for Lillibeth Navarro's March 10 op-ed piece, "ThDoublespeak of 'Death with Dignity' "). She said it so well.

In present-life dilemmas our very lives are being determined by others, either by their force or deceit or by our unwitting consent or desperation.

In situation ethics, power can be given to those who are not necessarily "for" our ultimate best interests. Dr. Jack Kevorkian in thought and action is a microcosm of such a world view.

On the other hand, "dignity," as Ms. Navarro describes it, is based on the ultimate and absolute fact that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

If we really understood and applied that monumental truth in every aspect of our lives, the innocent sick, elderly and victim would not be so readily conditioned to accept determination of their death by another human, doctor or not.

Nor would others allow it to happen so easily.

Mary Bahr


Reporting on Muslims

It never ceases to amaze me that bias and bigotry can continue to be flaunted by media and the mind managers of the gullible masses; particularly during this time when leaders purport to be working for racial, religious and ethnic harmony among the citizenry, nationally as well as abroad; a time when politicians are campaigning on platforms of ethnic harmony among the races.

The rift between Muslims and non-Muslims continues to be inured by many politicians and the press. This continues at the expense of community, national and world peace.

Whenever an incident of minor or major proportions occurs at the hand of one who claims to be Muslim, this person's religious preference is reported.

Whether that person decides the moment of the incident that he or she were Muslim and understands nothing of the theology of Al-Islam, the press reports, "Muslim" commits such and such.

The press does this only when it discovers that this person purports to be a Muslim. If the person is a Christian, the press does not say "Christian" committed such and such a crime or atrocity.

If the press did so report, every morning that we pick up the newspaper, we would see a headline reporting heinous acts committed by Christians and others far more often than you would see the headline about a Muslim.

Of the millions of crimes committed in America annually, the overwhelming proportion of these crimes are committed by non-Muslims.

Every day we are reading about the savage and barbaric acts being carried out in Bosnia and Herzegovina against Muslims. We have yet to hear the press report on the religious beliefs of the Europeans carrying out these atrocities.

Were the Muslims carrying out an "ethnic cleansing" genocide program against their European counterparts in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the world would be made to believe that this is the worst thing ever done against a group of human beings. Why doesn't the . . . press speak more loudly about these atrocities?

It is the identical scenario that took place in Germany during the Jewish Holocaust that was only prolonged because those that could and should have spoken out and stood up against this human catastrophe did not.

The American and European press, it appears to me, will not let the crusades of the Middle Ages end. It appears that they are dreaming of some protracted victory against the Muslims for the honor of Europe.

9- I suppose this is even a greater tragedy.

Ronald R. Shakir


The writer is resident imam of Masjid Walter Oman in Baltimore.

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