by Alicia Pimental
May 26, 2010
Maryland will expand oyster sanctuaries and aquaculture to help rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s depleted native oyster population under a three-point plan introduced by Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Maryland’s Proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan is designed to enhance oyster restoration for ecological purposes and encourage the development of aquaculture businesses, while continuing to support a more targeted and sustainable public oyster fishery.
The Chesapeake’s oyster population has remained at about one percent of historic levels since 1994, greatly affecting both the health of the Bay and the shellfish industry in Maryland. During this time period, quality oyster bars in Maryland decreased by 70 percent, from 200,000 to 36,000, according to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
“Our native oyster is part of the public trust, and we have a clear and urgent responsibility to restore this iconic species to the Chesapeake Bay,” said Gov. O’Malley.
The proposal aims to:
- Significantly increase Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries. The goal is to increase sanctuaries from 9 percent to 25 percent of remaining quality habitat, allowing oysters to live longer, spawn without harvest pressure and develop a natural resistance to disease over time. Maryland DNR will improve enforcement to monitor sanctuaries for poaching.
- Increase areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamline the permitting process. This will identify 600,000 acres that can be opened to leasing for oyster aquaculture.
- Identify areas off limits to leasing. This will allow for continued support of a more targeter, sustainable, scientifically managed public oyster fishery.
The plan is based on the findings of a six-year Environmental Impact Study of oyster restoration options, as well as the work of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission and the Aquaculture Coordinating Council.
The regulations will be published in the Maryland register on July 2, which will begin a six-week public comment period. If approved, the regulations will take effect in early September, prior to the October 1 start of the oyster season.
Learn more about the oyster restoration plan at DNR’s website.