Recently, the Editorial Board of The Baltimore Sun weighed in on the issue of oyster management in the Chesapeake Bay, simultaneously insulting the hard-working men and women of the seafood industry and suggesting that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is unwilling to protect the oyster (“Dwindling supply of Maryland oysters requires stronger response,” Sept. 17). As chairman of the Delmarva Fisheries Association, I take issue with both of these positions and several others blithely laid out for the members of Maryland’s General Assembly to devour with their oyster shooters and clam strips.
It does nothing to represent our side, the side that’s busy trying to make a living ensuring city folks have fresh, local seafood for their fundraising fêtes. For the record, DNR did not “cave” to watermen and seafood processors. They worked with stakeholders from the legislative, scientific, academic, seafood, business and nonprofit community to arrive at a plan to act now to use a multi-pronged strategy to increase the biomass of our iconic bivalve. We proposed several ways to reduce harvest pressure, one of many stressors to the oyster population, as did others. Ultimately, DNR came up with a plan for the coming season that left no one 100% satisfied. It’s called compromise. They are using an adaptive management strategy that will allow them to monitor scientifically what is working and what’s not and then modify their approach until they’ve arrived at a suite of actions that increase the oyster population.
Speaking of stress, one critical piece that’s generally missing from this conversation is everything besides harvest pressure that’s making a disaster zone of the nation’s largest estuary. Recent reports reveal that millions of gallons of untreated sewage from Baltimore and Harrisburg, Pa., get dumped into the Chesapeake Bay each year (“Pa. capitol pumps waste directly into Chesapeake Bay’s biggest tributary,” Sept. 4). During major storm events, tons of nutrient-laden sediment spew out of the open spill gates at the Conowingo Dam because its reservoir is full. If the “leave them alone” strategy works, why aren’t there any oysters in the Upper Bay near the dam? We aren’t harvesting there. Could it be there are more profound issues than the few remaining members of the wild fishery trying to earn a living?
What’s certain is that the easiest, least expensive shot to take is at us rather than tackling systemic challenges, often exacerbated by those with the deepest pockets. In addition, we would like to see the Chesapeake Bay Foundation scientist’s proof that DNR’s conclusions are wrong. Was this the same scientist who couldn’t explain this summer’s catastrophic failure at several oyster hatcheries while the natural spat set in open waters was robust? Why couldn’t watermen capitalize on the natural spat? Because there’s no shell. Why is there no shell? Because for the last decade, CBF has lobbied legislators, agencies and others not to dredge for buried shell as was mandated by the legislature in 2009.
Finally, we’re weary to death of the tired old trope that us dumb watermen act against our own self-interest. Both science and generations of experience tell us that smothered bottom does not serve the oyster. Our method of rotational harvest allows us to work bars over the long-term, moving juvenile oysters around the Bay and increasing their chance of survival. We use natural diploid oysters capable of reproducing, rather than the sterile modified triploids preferred by many in aquaculture due to their ability to grow to market size faster.
The Sun’s editorial seems designed to urge the legislature to overturn Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto of legislation that even the Capital Gazette found problematic due to the secret meeting component, a seemingly direct violation of Maryland’s Open Meetings Act. To quote their editorial, “this smacks of politics.” Our members are the state’s first conservationists. We protect our livelihood for the love of our work and the hope that our way of life, so important to our communities and the environmental, economic and cultural fabric of this state, may be preserved for our children and yours.