UPDATE: Before you read the below, know that the Maryland General Assembly has just passed a bill protecting the Harris Creek, Little Choptank, Tred Avon, St. Mary's, and Manokin River sanctuaries - with veto-proof majorities! It also specifically states that reefs be built with substrate that has been proven to maximize oyster density. Thank you, Maryland General Assembly!
Remember when we examined the push to have 10 billion oysters back in the Chesapeake Bay? It wasn't that long ago and as the warming Bay begins to shake off the dreary chill of winter and we dust off our seasonal gear to prepare for a new season, I’d love to focus this month on a positive note. But that’s quite difficult when the Chesapeake and by extension its recreational fisheries are under a constant assault. Over the winter, on January 31 to be precise, yet another example of greed and politics taking priority over the most basic common sense once again took aim at our Bay. Back then we reached out over the internet (see Angler's Alert: More Utter Madness on Chesapeake Oyster Replenishment for the original article) to make as many people aware as possible, but we know we didn’t reach everyone. So here’s a partial recap:
Maryland Senate Bill 362, introduced January 31, attempted to make oyster replenishment harder and less effective. This bill, sponsored by Senators Stephen Hershey (district 36), John Bailey (district 29), Mary Beth Carozza (district 38), and Adelaide Eckardt (district 37), states that the DNR “may plant or allow to be planted only certain native oyster shell of a certain species for use as substrate for an oyster restoration, propagation, or replenishment project;” it then went on to place a number of restrictions and requirements on the use of anything else, such as stone and concrete.
According to NOAA, stone reef built in Harris Creek has been shown to support 400 percent more oysters than shell reef. So, why would any legislator who truly cares about the health of the Chesapeake make it harder to replenish oysters? Isn’t it obvious that we should be looking to these far better performing substrates for oyster restoration? Of course it is. But there’s one problem with oysters grown on concrete, rock, and rubble: they’re difficult or impossible to harvest commercially.
Certain commercial interests – not all of them, there are plenty of responsible watermen out there – are willing to sacrifice one of the best oyster restoration tools we’ve found yet in order to harness more of the state’s funds, so said state uses a far less effective but harvestable restoration method. And there are politicians out there who are perfectly willing to aid them in that endeavor by putting forth odious bills like SB 362.
All this takes place with one to two percent of the historic oyster population left. It’s utterly irresponsible. It’s sickening. And it’s dang well about time we let our politicians know that in the eyes of we citizens who actually care about the Bay, this is a firing offense.
Names, districts, counties, and contacts for all of your legislators can be found on the Maryland General Assembly web page. Just as important, however, it’s also time to let Governor Hogan know how we the angling community feels about the issue (here's your link to contact the Governor). Remember that less than two years ago he supported opening a large portion of Maryland’s protected oyster sanctuaries – despite polling that shows 90-percent of Maryland voters want the state to protect those sanctuaries.
A brief open note to Governor Larry Hogan:
In most regards many of us, Republicans and Democrats alike, are proud of your performance in office. But to those of us who love the Chesapeake the one glaring stain on your record is a consistent willingness to back commercial interests over the good of the Bay’s health. We ask you to look at the example of Florida, where Republican and Democratic administrations alike recognized long ago that the economic and social values of clean water and healthy recreational fisheries far outweigh those of commercial interests – and when commercial harvest directly and incontrovertibly threatens both the environmental and recreational health of waterways and fisheries, common sense and good politics dictate prioritizing the interests of society as a whole.
We’d hate to think that money trumps the will of the people, but why else would a leader put the interests of so few before 90-percent of his or her constituents?
As well as doing what is quite simply the right thing for Marylanders, while you consider your own political future here and beyond we hope you will reconsider your position on matters like this that directly impact the health of the Chesapeake Bay.