Environmental Groups Worrying Success Could Impact Oyster Recovery Efforts

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The ups and downs of nature and the best efforts of people are both are examined in a state study on efforts to increase the bay’s oyster population.

You have to look close. Each of those tiny spots is a baby oyster called spat. New life grown and attached to recycled shells in a lab.

Tens of millions have been used to build oyster sanctuaries off limits to harvesting, to renew oyster populations.

Now a study by the Department of Natural Resources finds some sanctuaries are doing better than others.

“The salinity and the location and how much efforts are put into it are key factors,” said Chris Judy, with the Department of Natural Resources.

Sanctuaries have grown from 9-percent of Maryland’s oyster habitat to 24-percent.

Overall, the study found oyster population doubling in sanctuaries, while public oyster bars saw a 30-percent drop in population.

“That’s a natural oscillation that we’ve seen for decades. The industry going up, going down in response to natural spat set,” said Judy.

But with a growing supply of oysters in the sanctuaries, watermen are lobbying for at least partial access.

“Maybe on a rotating basis for a couple of weeks, with the stipulation they have to be re-planted in the spring and summer,” said waterman Bert Parks.

DNR says the study is a status report on oyster harvesting, aquaculture and the sanctuaries.

“It provides an opportunity to maybe add some or delete some, change the mix a little bit,” said Mark Belton, DNR secretary.

If changing that mix means opening up some sanctuaries to harvesting, does the study justify it?

“I think somebody could pull that out of it and make a case, as thin as that is, for opening some these areas to harvest,” said Bill Goldsborough, with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation.

DNR says if changes are made to oyster recover efforts it will only happen after all stake holders are consulted.

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