(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—Today, the Maryland General Assembly took decisive action to put into law legislation that has the potential to increase the oyster population in Maryland long-term.
The process outlined in the legislation will bring together environmental advocates, scientists, watermen, and seafood sellers to work with an independent mediator to recommend policies aimed at increasing the overall oyster population in Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake Bay. The legislation also calls for the state's Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to work with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to use a scientific model to forecast how oyster populations would change based on different management strategies.
An adult oyster can filter up to 50 gallons of water per day and the bivalves naturally sequester nitrogen and phosphorus in their tissue and shells. Oysters reefs also provide habitat to crabs, fish, and other marine life—making them critically important to the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.
The state's adult oyster population dropped by about 50 percent from 1999 to 2018, according to the stock assessment released in December 2018. The decline during the past two decades continues a long history of oyster population loss due to overfishing, disease, and pollution.
To correct this decline, the legislation requires the new oyster management plan to increase oyster abundance and end overfishing in areas where the stock assessment determines it is occurring. The new plan must also facilitate the long-term sustainable harvest of oysters from the public fishery.
CBF also plans to support legislation in the 2020 General Assembly session to ensure the fishery management plan created through the consensus-based process is implemented on the timeline detailed in the bill despite the delay due to the veto.
In response to the veto override, CBF's Maryland Executive Director Alison Prost issued the following statement:
"This important new law aims to stop the long-term decline of oysters in Maryland. More oysters mean cleaner water, more fish and crabs, and a healthier Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. It's time to work together toward the common goal of increasing Maryland's oyster population to improve the state's environment and the fishery's long-term outlook. Thanks to the members of the General Assembly for recognizing the importance of this needed legislation that will chart a new path for Maryland's oysters."