Three years ago exactly to the day, I wrote that Maryland’s plan to excavate buried oyster shells from Man O War shoal, the largest remaining relic oyster reef in the upper Chesapeake, was short-sighted and ill-conceived. (Actually, I first wrote about efforts to allow dredging on Man O War at least twelve years ago).
Also in that 2019 column, I opined that there were things Governor Larry Hogan’s natural resource agency had done to earn my support, but strip-mining Man O War shoal wasn’t one of them. Not even close.
Fast-forward to the 2022 General Assembly session where a group of legislators have introduced a bill (H593) that, as currently written, would allow the state to strip-mine potentially many millions of bushels of oyster shell from dozens of other reefs in the Chesapeake Bay. These include popular fishing spots such as Belvedere Shoal, Tea Kettle, Seven Foot knoll, Gales Lumps, and Nine Foot Knoll.
Some supporters of the bill — and of this habitat-wrecking practice writ large — argue it would help accelerate efforts to reboot the state’s wild oyster fishery. To say I’m dubious is an insult to dubious. You cannot convince me that cutting massive swaths into established bay reefs, the number of which are so few as it is already, is not counter-intuitive to restoration best practices.
Moreover, strafing these oyster bars would likely accelerate the erosion of that bar’s natural relief, what I call its three-dimensionality. This key feature is what makes oyster reefs a magnet for crabs, rockfish, white perch, catfish, and spot — all of which attracts anglers.
Carving up places like Man O War Shoal or Belvedere Shoal could also negatively impact the commercial crab fleet, which routinely set pots near or on these prime areas. Disrupting critical fish and crab habitat could lead to fewer crabs caught, and those effects could be felt down the line by scores of seafood dealers and restaurants that cater to crab-loving (and -paying) customers. Is that worth the risk, given the challenges Maryland’s crab fishery already faces?
Thankfully, many of us see the folly in this plan, and have let our state legislators know our opinion. You should, too.
To specifically protect Man O War Shoal from the heavy tines of a power dredge, state legislators have introduced two bills (HB500 and SB979). A diverse mix of stakeholders — Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, upper bay charter captains, watermen, Baltimore County elected officials — stand together to support these measures that would prohibit the Department of Natural Resources from dredging buried oyster shells on this historic oyster bar.
DNR is funded largely from our tax dollars, and its mission is to lead “Maryland in securing a sustainable future for our environment, society, and economy by preserving, protecting, restoring, and enhancing the state’s natural resources.” In many ways they do just that, but not in this case.
Which brings me back to my original question I asked a dozen years ago: How does dredging buried oyster shell actually further Maryland’s mission, much less fulfill its obligation, to protect and restore our natural resources? I’m not that smart, but I am smart enough to know an ill-conceived plan that does irreparable harm to marine habitats accomplishes none of these things.
To those who support such endeavors, however well meaning, your logic evades me. We should focus resources and money on forward-looking goals that actually restore the bay’s natural oyster reefs primarily for their ecological function, not destroy it.
Through Feb. 28: CCA Maryland Pickerel Championship. Compete for some great prizes.
March 2: Free State Fly Fishers Club (7-9 p.m.) Striped bass update and invasive species management with DNR biologist Erik Zlokovitz. Note: Event may change to virtual via Zoom. Check the website. Davidsonville Family Recreation Center. Contact Ryan Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 8: Potomac River Fisheries Commission public hearing. In person only, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. 222 Taylor St, Colonial Beach, VA 22443. Contact email@example.com.
March 9: Virginia Marine Resources Commission public hearing for striped bass Amendment 7 plan, 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Webinar only presentation. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
March 12: Free State Fly Fishers Club (10 a.m.-noon). Joe DeMeo demonstrates tying freshwater fly patterns. Materials provided, bring your own vice and tying tools.
March 19: Free State Fly Fishers (10 a.m.-noon). Duber Winters’ “Hands-on Tips for Improving Your Trout Fishing Experience.”
March 19: Maryland Fly Fishing and Collectible Tackle Show. The Epicenter, at Aberdeen, MD. Visit marylandflyfishingshow.com.
March 28: Maryland DNR public hearing for striped bass Amendment 7 plan. 6 p.m.8 p.m. Calvary United Methodist Church, 301 Rowe Blvd, Annapolis, MD 21401. Contact email@example.com.
March 29: CCA MD Annapolis Chapter “Anglers Night Out.” Fishing films, oysters, and beers. Boatyard Bar & Grill, Eastport.
April 15: Final Public Comments due Amendment 7, striper rebuilding plan. Email your opinion to: firstname.lastname@example.org (Subject line: Draft Amendment 7).
April 1-30: Striper Closure. Anglers are prohibited from targeting striped bass, which includes catch-and-release.
May 1-15: Spring Striper Season. One striper per day, minimum size 35 inches, in the Chesapeake from Brewerton Channel to the Virginia state line.
Send calendar listings, news and photos to email@example.com.