(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—On Monday night, Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch introduced a new bill to permanently protect the state’s five Chesapeake Bay tributaries where oyster restoration work is underway or planned to take place.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is energetically supporting the legislation that would protect significant state and federal investments in the five oyster restoration tributaries. In turn, the protected tributaries will provide long-term water quality and biodiversity benefits to Maryland’s portion of the Bay.
The tributaries selected for oyster restoration are Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River, Tred Avon River, and the Manokin River on the Eastern Shore as well as the Upper St. Mary’s River in St. Mary’s County. The five tributaries were selected as part of Maryland’s commitment to the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement.
The Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and environmental organizations first began large-scale oyster restoration work in Harris Creek in 2011. Since then, 350 acres of Bay bottom was built out with granite and shell substrate then planted with about 2.5 billion oyster spat. Oysters have flourished in Harris Creek, according to NOAA monitoring reports. A 2018 Nature Conservancy study determined the oyster reefs can filter the full volume of Harris Creek in less than 10 days during summer months.
Restoration work is ongoing in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon rivers, while plans are being formulated to begin work in the Upper St. Mary’s and Manokin rivers.
Putting the restoration tributaries into permanent protection would also be a step toward increasing the state’s dwindling oyster population. The state’s oyster stock assessment released in November determined the population of adult oysters in Maryland dropped from about 600 million in 1999 to the current population of about 300 million. The assessment also noted the current adult oyster population is less than 10 percent of the quantity of oysters that were harvested each year before 1900—a figure that represents the historically low level of oysters currently in the Bay.
In response to Speaker Busch’s new legislation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
“Reversing the historical decline of Maryland’s oyster population is going to take major initiatives to protect the species long-term. This bill will protect the investments made by the state and federal government to increase oyster populations so that all Marylanders can benefit from oysters’ ability to filter water. Scientific studies have also shown large oyster reefs serve as habitat for a multitude of Bay creatures such as blue crabs. We thank Speaker Busch for being a leader on this important issue.”