Maryland's upcoming oyster season won't be cut by 10 days at the start and another 10 days at the end, officials announced Monday, a change to an initial proposal that relieved watermen but concerned critics who support stronger conservation measures.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources said the final regulations are expected to result in a net reduction of about 26 percent to the oyster harvest.
The regulations eased up on limits it proposed last week by the department after watermen criticized the proposal at a meeting. Those regulations would have reduced the harvest by an estimated 30%, the department said.
The proposal outlined last week would have delayed the season's start to Oct. 15 for commercial diving and tonging, but it will now begin Oct. 1 and end March 31.
However, there will be no commercial harvesting on Wednesdays.
The commercial season for power dredging will run from Nov. 1 to March 31. Watermen said cutting the first 10 days of the season would have caused them to lose markets around the Thanksgiving holiday.
"I think it's the best we could get in a bad situation," said Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.
This oyster season is the first since the release of the state's first oyster stock assessment. It estimated that market-sized oysters dropped from 600 million in 1999 to about 300 million in the Maryland portion of the Chesapeake Bay in 2018.
Allison Colden, Maryland fisheries scientist at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, said the study proved urgent action was needed, and she expressed disappointment the department didn't follow through with a greater reduction in days for the season. She said the final regulations represented "more of the same."
"From my perspective, it's obvious that the oyster population we have out there can't currently support the level of fishing we have at fishing five days a week, and it's very likely not going to have any conservation impact by just cutting it one day a week," Colden said.
The department kept a reduction in bushel limits. For example, there will be a 10 bushel limit a day per person and 20 bushels per boat for power dredging. That compares with 12 bushels per day per person last year and 24 bushels per boat.
There also will be temporary closures in some areas north of the Bay Bridge. Also, the recreational harvest will be limited to three days a week with no harvesting after noon and a 50% reduction in harvest limits.