DNR oyster regulations fall short of what’s needed
Oct 07, 2019 | 1:43 PM
University of Maryland students volunteers work with the Chesapeake Bay Foundations Oyster Restoration Center, in Shady Side, as part of an “alternative spring break” program of college students from across the east coast.
As someone involved in recreational oystering, I had to chuckle at the Maryland Department of Natural Resources recent rule changes cracking down on the “enormous” amount of oysters people such as myself are taking from Maryland waters (“Dwindling supply of Maryland oysters requires stronger response,” Sept. 17). Personally, I rarely get more than 100 oysters in one day, so I’m not upset about the daily limit being reduced from a bushel to 100.
DNR also cut back recreational oystering from six days a week to three, and during the week one can now only take oysters until noon rather than to 3 p.m. as before. For me, that is not a big deal either, since I can only usually get out into the water on a Saturday morning.
So what’s my point? Does DNR really think that those regulation changes are going to cut down substantially on the oyster harvest? These regs are laughable. DNR admits in its May 2019 Maryland Chesapeake Bay Oyster Management Plan on page 46 that it “does not have any data on effort or catch from recreational harvest.”
Further, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers states on page 47 of its Nov. 2016 Tred Avon River Oyster study that, “Recreational oystering is legal, but uncommon in the Bay today.” Gee, if all of Maryland’s recreational harvesters banded together to form the Recreational Oystering Association of Maryland (ROAM), would DNR be more likely to listen to the, oh, 10 of us?
The point is that recreational oystering is likely having a minimal or even miniscule impact on the overall harvest. Really, how many people even want to wade out in frigid water with the wind chilling your bones in November through March trying to find a few oysters? And how many people wade through multiple complex DNR documents and website maps to find out if an area is leased or conditional or a sanctuary just to do so?
Why did DNR even bother slaying the tiny little recreational oystering dragon? DNR would have fared better by following the recommendations of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation which called for using commercial harvest reports to discern when an area reached its harvest limit and then closing that area for the season for everyone (“Maryland relaxes initially proposed oyster harvest limits, aims for 26% reduction,” Sept. 17).
DNR’s new plan also put in some new restrictions on commercial oystering. However, Allison Colden, CBF’s Maryland Fisheries Scientist, said of DNR’s new plan, “These are halfhearted attempts that fail to address overfishing or the systemic and chronic decline of Maryland’s oyster population.”
The bay’s adult oyster population is estimated to be about 300 million, half of what it was in 1999 and apparently still falling. Like commercial oystermen, those who harvest oysters non-commercially don’t want to see a complete moratorium on harvesting wild oysters until natural reproduction improves. CBF’s plan provides a better chance of avoiding the looming moratorium than the impotent one DNR just enacted.