Petition aims to slow oysters' introduction

THE BALTIMORE SUN

In a move to slow down the state's plans to introduce Asian oysters into the Chesapeake Bay, a local environmentalist has filed a petition with the federal government asking that the native oyster be designated an endangered or threatened species.

Dieter Busch, a Crownsville environmental consultant, wrote the National Marine Fisheries Service last week asking the federal agency to protect the native oyster from a foreign introduction that he fears could result in its extinction.

Despite a recent rebound in some areas, the native oyster harvests throughout the Chesapeake Bay are a fraction of what they were a decade ago because of disease and overharvesting. The Ehrlich administration is considering introducing Asian oysters to give watermen a crop to harvest and to help filter pollution from the bay.

Scientists are still investigating the benefits and drawbacks of the Asian oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis. Among the issues they are studying is how the native and Asian oysters would co-exist in the bay. State officials have said they hope to make a decision on whether to introduce the bivalve by spring.

Busch, who spent much of his career with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he fears the new oyster would be the final straw for the native species.

"It's an economic shortcut that will have major repercussions. It's a lose-lose situation," he said. "One shouldn't make a decision to bring an exotic in until everything has been done to restore the native."

The agency has 90 days to review Busch's complaint.

Mike Slattery, assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said he appreciates Busch's concern but doubts the petition will succeed. "The Eastern oyster is not going to go extinct," Slattery said.

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