Maryland Update

From the Desk of Alison Prost

Spring 2017

Marylanders Stand up for the Bay's Oysters

A few years ago Ann Attanasio knew that oysters arrived on a plate with cocktail sauce and that's about it. Now, here she was testifying about oysters in front of a committee of the Maryland state legislature.

Ann is an example of the countless number of Marylanders who have developed more than a taste for oysters. They have come to understand and be passionate about the important role oysters play in the ecology of the Chesapeake Bay.

Ann drove to Annapolis from Rockville to testify because she knew oysters needed her. The Maryland seafood industry was pushing to start harvesting on oyster sanctuaries. Sanctuaries are off-limits to harvesting. On those protected reefs, oysters are allowed to grow large and, hopefully, reproduce. Sanctuaries are Maryland’s insurance policy for the survival of oysters in the Chesapeake.

Ann joined scientists, environmentalists, and others who successfully advocated for a bill that reaffirmed the legislature's stance that no major changes to oyster management policies in Maryland could take place on sanctuaries until a scientific study is completed on whether the oyster harvest is sustainable.

Legislators undoubtedly paid attention to Attanasio, and to a bi-partisan poll commissioned by CBF that showed about 90 percent of Marylanders want sanctuary reefs to be left alone. The poll was conducted jointly by a Republican polling firm, and a Democratic pollster.

Ann said she developed an appreciation of the lowly oyster through her daughter, Jamie. In 2007, Jamie, then nine-years-old, joined CBF's oyster gardening program, which helps volunteers raise baby oysters in cages. You can't grow oysters in Rockville, but the owner of Oak Grove Marina in Edgewater was delighted to let Jamie grow oysters there.

Before long, Jamie had convinced her friends to join in. At the start, Jamie tended four cages but eventually took on 18 cages. By the time she graduated high school, she and her friends had raised 95,986 baby oysters. Many of those oysters were subsequently planted on sanctuary reefs. Jamie is now a freshman at Colby College in Maine, studying environmental science.

Of course, mom did a lot of chauffeuring over the years . . . and learning. She watched the kids get excited about the sea worms, grass shrimp, and other life that thrived around the clumps of oysters.

"What the hell is an oyster? You live in Rockville. You aren't around the water," Ann recalled of her earlier ignorance. "Now, we care a lot."

Among other victories for the Bay and the environment this legislative session, Governor Hogan and lawmakers banned hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and approved a state budget with strong funding for Bay programs.

CBF wasn't successful with a bill that would have slowed the loss of forests in Maryland to development. Forests are natural sponges for pollution, if they can be protected, or replanted. The bill passed the Senate but stalled in the House Environment and Transportation Committee.

—Alison Prost
Maryland Executive Director
Chesapeake Bay Foundation

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