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750 Maryland Watermen To Restore Oyster Bars

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Alex DeMetrick 370x278 Alex DeMetrick
Alex DeMetrick has been a general assignment reporter with WJZ...
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ/AP) — A clamp down on crabbing cost Maryland watermen money.

To make up some of that lost income, hundreds took on state work to help restore oysters in the bay.

Alex DeMetrick reports some watermen worry that won’t mean a long-term rescue. 

Watermen used to work a public oyster bar off Kent Island for oysters. On Wednesday, the catch was mostly empty shells.

“Oysters aren’t producing the way they should be because there’s nothing they can attach to, with the shells settling into the bottom,” said Troy Luongo, waterman.

Those live oysters, along with tons of shell, are being moved to an oyster sanctuary. It will be off limits to harvesting, in the hopes native oysters will overcome disease that have decimated stocks and that they will reproduce.

“You need shells, and you need for them to be clean.  You need nature to do her work.  You need a lot of things to happen correctly for it all to fall into place,” said Eddie Walters, Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Over the winter, 750 watermen have also looked to this work for income that was lost when the blue crab population crashed two years ago. A federal disaster grant provides the pay.

“Everybody’s got a little money out of it.   This is a time for us that’s a down time. So it’s been a big help here,” said Moochie Gilmer, waterman.

Crabs are showing signs of rebounding, but building oyster sanctuaries to bridge the gap to this summer’s harvest carries its own economic irony.

“We’re creating another sanctuary, which is a Catch 22 situation for us,” said a waterman. It’s a Catch 22 because it’s off-limits to the watermen.

Trying to ensure the oysters’ future is no guarantee that it will ensure the watermen’s.

The Department of Natural Resources says the watermen will work on nearly two dozen oyster bars. The department says watermen can’t have any significant Natural Resources violations since 2008 to participate in the program. Captains are paid $500 day with a guaranteed nine days of work. Each boat can also have a single crew member, who will be paid $150 a day.

The work is being paid for with the help of federal grants that followed a 2008 disaster declaration for the bay’s crab fishery.

DNR says more than 850 Maryland watermen have rehabilitated more than 2,200 acres of oyster bars since the program started three years ago.

Maryland has increased the number of sanctuaries from nine percent to 24 percent of the bay, in water considered to be quality habitat. 

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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