Oysters have been a Maryland delicacy since before the state even existed. But what happens to those shells when you're done slurping them?
The Maryland Board of Public Works should decline to issue a wetlands license to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to dredge buried oyster shell from Man-O-War Shoal (MOW) in Baltimore County. This is the last large shoal or reef comprised of very old buried oyster shell in the upper Chesapeake Bay.
MOW has been a prized fishing location for citizens for generations. Oysters continue to be planted and harvested there. The recreational activity in the area supports marinas, boat yards, fishing tackle shops and many other businesses. DNR has not specified exactly how the dredged shell removed from the shoal will be used or the specific source of funds required for the project.
The upshot is that this oily forage fish that provides crucial food for numerous marine species, including rockfish, whales and sea birds, will continue to be managed for the next two years as a single, commercially harvested species.
By Chris D. Dollar
Nov 18, 2017 at 11:40 AM
This very unpopular proposal is opposed by individuals, elected officials and diverse community and business organizations. The only proponents for the action are the commercial harvesters of wild oysters. They claim they need shell to attract oyster larvae or on which to plant hatchery larvae. The nature of the industry is that it removes oyster shell when it harvests and sells its catch, but it does not return the shell to the water to serve as substrate for future oyster generations. Destroying MOW for its shell to subsidize the oyster industry at taxpayer expense is only a temporary reprieve and does nothing toward creating a sustainable oyster population. The old shell degrades with time, and when this finite public resource is gone we will be back where we are today.
DNR ignores past experience with and the ultimate results of a similar program. From 1960 until 2006, it dredged 185 million to 200 million bushels of buried oyster shell from multiple areas in the upper bay and barged them down the bay into saltier water where oysters reproduce better to subsidize the oyster industry in the “repletion program.” When the shell was spread out and degraded, and the upper bay supply was exhausted, the program ended.
Despite the limited availability of oyster shell, tributary-wide oyster restoration is progressing in Maryland using alternative materials such as stone. Over the past decade, research has documented the success of alternative materials serving as a bed for oyster larvae to settle on and grow, and the first five-year assessment of that restoration effort documents that the program is meeting or exceeding its stated goals. In fact, the 2016 annual Oyster Fall Survey reported the highest spat set recorded was in the Little Choptank River on fossil oyster shell mined from on-shore deposits in Florida. In Harris Creek, our state’s first tributary-wide restoration, stone substrate is now showing oyster densities four to 20 times greater than that on shell substrate or hard bottom.
Regardless of the merits of the license application itself, without a clear and achievable purpose for the proposed activity that clearly benefits all of Maryland’s citizens, a fiscal plan and binding funding commitment to see the plan through, and a strong demonstration that the greater goal of restoring oyster populations bay-wide would be served by such severe action, the license should be denied — particularly given that alternative materials have been proven effective in attracting oyster larvae.
After the state decided to make cuts to the oyster restoration project in the Little Choptank River earlier this month, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Army Corp of Engineers are insisting on the continued use of substrates in man-made reefs.