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Let's stick to the plan a moratorium on harvesting bay oysters is not the answer


I AM DISAPPOINTED with your editorial (Sept. 24), reporting that a moratorium on oyster harvesting may be necessary to save the Chesapeake Bay oyster.

This view indicates a failure to understand the results of the historic Maryland Oyster Roundtable Action Plan and the measures that have been set in place since this document was adopted in late 1993.

The Oyster Roundtable was assembled by former Gov. William Donald Schaefer at the recommendation of the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources, Torrey Brown.

This group -- which includes environmentalists, watermen, elected officials, members of the regulatory community and scientists -- addressed the issues that you raised in your editorial: harvest pressures, the impact of diseases and the oyster's critical role in the ecosystem.

The agreement, signed by all, set forth an action plan that acknowledged the importance of the oyster habitat while recognizing the need to support both a public and private fishery. Key to the implementation of this agreement was the establishment of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a nonprofit venture composed of representatives of the original signatories of the agreement.

I do not support your call for a moratorium. This issue is incorporated in the action plan and has been addressed by some of the best minds in oyster biology.

While the oyster diseases in question infect the species prior to reaching market size, it is still necessary to visit bars during a harvest regime to remove sediments while locating market-size oysters.

We have identified several areas within the bay where surviving stock, protected from harvest, will be incorporated into a brood stock of survivors. By establishing sanctuaries outlined in the action plan, we will allow the scientific community an opportunity to test theories outside of the laboratory.

We will rebuild habitat, often with the assistance of educational and community groups; this will increase our understanding of the complex issues associated with oysters. This past summer, with assistance from the Living Classrooms Foundation, we constructed a five-acre bar in the Choptank River using disease-free oysters. Restoration projects are being developed for the Severn, Magothy and Patuxent rivers.

To assist in recovery efforts, watermen are taking an active role in the maintenance of the public fishery. The partnership has assisted in the development of several oyster reef restoration efforts that have involved members of the public fishery.

This month, the Potomac River Fisheries Commission will be addressing the issue of reef rehabilitation in the main stem of the Potomac; Maryland watermen will be at the table in support of continued reef rehabilitation.

The Roundtable's plan establishes, for the first time, an experimental oyster aquaculture program.

With Maryland's history of a public fishery deeply rooted in its colonial past, one should not expect aquaculture to spring forth in one year.

Aquaculture will play a major role in the recovery of this fishery.

To support this effort, the Department of Natural Resources is assisting applicants with the permit process, the partnership is moving to assure a constant supply of "seeds" and the Department of Agriculture is opening markets. Aquaculture will show results.

The action plan is one of a very limited number of environmental consensus agreements worldwide. This pact, supported by the original signatories, has been of interest to neighboring states as well as several international groups.

In short, your concerns have already been addressed; we only need time to implement the plan.

The writer is the executive director of the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Robert M. Pfeiffer


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