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Maryland General Assembly approves oyster restoration bill

The Maryland General Assembly has passed a bill to permanently protect five oyster sanctuaries in the law.

The measure now goes to Gov. Larry Hogan.

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The bill prohibits catching oysters in the five sanctuaries. They are Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, the Tred Avon River, the St. Mary's River and the Manokin River.

A decade ago, Maryland politicians rewrote laws that allow aquaculture companies to use public waterways for private gain — and for the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem at large. But not everyone agrees it’s a positive development.

Supporters say the sanctuaries are critical to the recovery of the state's oyster population, which are the foundation of the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Oysters are natural filters that improve water quality. They are estimated to be at about only 1 percent of their historic highs.

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Alison Prost, Maryland's executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, says the bill provides needed permanent protection for the tributaries where large-scale restoration efforts are happening.

Maryland officials on Wednesday proposed establishing a new oyster sanctuary in the Eastern Shore's Manokin River, instead of a Potomac River tributary in Southern Maryland. And they suggested paying for it using only state funds — a maneuver that could allow watermen to one day harvest it.

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