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Bringing back Maryland's oysters

I share the sentiments of U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin and Michael Roman, director of the Horn Point Laboratory of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, in their op-ed, "Restoring hope in a half shell" (Nov. 5).

Oysters are one of Maryland's most iconic species, a status they have maintained for centuries. Historically, oysters supported vibrant local economies and were often the center of passionate debate (for example, the "Oyster Wars"). In the present day, the advent of disease combined with years of harvesting, pollution and habitat loss has resulted in a depleted population.

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To give oysters a fighting chance, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been working overtime with partners to actively restore our oyster population. Working closely with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oyster Recovery Partnership, Horn Point Lab, the University of Maryland, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and commercial watermen, we led the completion of the largest, most comprehensive oyster restoration project in the world in Harris Creek.

We are also actively encouraging oyster aquaculture and working to streamline the permitting process to facilitate continued growth of this innovative industry and business opportunity. Additionally, we continue to work with county oyster committees on the most cost effective means to ensure a sustainable wild oyster harvest, including seeking out sources of local shell.

Oyster restoration is in everyone's interest, but it will take more than government action to bring back this critical species. It will take the active involvement of all our partners — citizens, environmentalists, non-profit organizations and watermen. Oyster restoration is instrumental to a healthier Chesapeake Bay and a more prosperous Maryland and remains a focus of the Hogan administration and this agency.

Mark J. Belton, Annapolis

The writer is Secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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