Maryland's newly-formed Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) yesterday released its first report with initial recommendations about how the state should be managing its oyster resources.
You might not guess it, but this is exciting stuff. I know, I know… another commission, another report… and where are the oysters? What's going to be different this time??
Well, for starters, the Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources and his team did a great job of naming new--but knowledgeable--faces to the commission. I'm not just saying this because CBF Maryland Executive Director, Kim Coble, is a member of the team. Everyone seems to be very committed to seeing the issues through fresh eyes and seeking new solutions.
The report's findings, recommendations, and even the vision statement are only preliminary, because the oyster Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)* isn't due out until this spring. That will provide more comprehensive information for the commission.
But--preliminarily--the OAC is recognizing some key things. One, that there is a difference between restoring oysters for their ecological value (that is, planting them onto sanctuaries where they can provide filtration and habitat value), and restoring the oyster industry (that is, keeping our watermen working). Both are laudable goals, but they are two very different things.
Two, the OAC found that to date, federal and state oyster funding has primarily been used to support industry restoration, with less than a quarter of the funding supporting ecological restoration. This is clearly out of balance since one of the reasons we want to bring back the oyster population is to improve the health of the Bay.
Moving forward, the Commission advocates ramping up the scale of ecological restoration, while helping the oyster industry transition into farming native oysters (aquaculture). Throughout the world aquaculture has proven to be more profitable and self-sustaining than harvesting wild oysters. In fact, we only have to look as far as Virginia to see that some of their watermen have transitioned to aquaculture and are doing nicely. And while creating a profitable industry, those oyster farms are providing some water filtration benefits to the Bay.
Let's get in on that!
*The state/federal environmental impact statement regarding native and non-native oysters in the Chesapeake has been a long time coming, but it is considered the most comprehensive analysis to date of the oyster situation in the Chesapeake Bay.
Stephanie Reynolds is CBF's Maryland oyster restoration scientist.