Dredging Man-O-War Shoal Could Deplete Oyster Restoration Budget, with Uncertain Benefits

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Alison Prost, Maryland Executive Director, issued this statement following a media report that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on May 17 granted a request by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to dredge up to five million bushels of oyster shells from the Man-O-War Shoals near the mouth of the Patapsco River over five years, and perhaps as many as 30 million bushels longer term. The Army Corps issued a provisional permit for the work.  

"Dredging Man-O-War Shoal will provide little help to the oyster population in Maryland, but it will damage important fish habitat. The harm of the dredging outweighs the benefit. 

"There is no need to dredge this reef. Granite, crushed concrete, and other materials are viable alternatives to shell for building sanctuary reefs. In Harris Creek, for instance, stone reefs support 400 percent more oysters than shell reefs, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. We'll have more shell for replenishing harvest areas if we use alternatives elsewhere. 

"Maryland still has not disclosed who will benefit from this dredging. The general public has a great interest in the health of oysters in the Bay. Yet the permit application does not say if the dredged shell will be used to help grow and harvest more oysters, or to help grow oysters protected from harvest, or both. 

"Some watermen have been pushing for this dredging. Yet even if all five million bushels of dredged shell are used to aid the wild oyster harvest, the increase in the harvest would be relatively meager. The added shell would likely provide two extra harvests from an area of the Bay bottom equal to two percent of the historic oyster bars. 

"While the dredging will provide little benefit, it will cost taxpayers $20 to $25 million. Most of that money will come from the state's oyster restoration budget, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services. That means virtually all money set aside to help rebuild the oyster population in Maryland would be drained in order to destroy an historic oyster reef."

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