DNR, ORP, Watermen Begin Work Rehabilitating Oyster Bars in Tangier Sound, Severn & Patuxent Rivers

ANNAPOLIS (Nov. 21, 2008) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources and Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) expect to hire more than 520 watermen for oyster bar restoration work as part of Governor Martin O’Malley’s plan to help mitigate economic losses from the declined blue crab fishery, while also helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay. An additional 84 watermen are expected to be hired for land-based work that will begin later this year.

“United with the Maryland Watermen’s Association and the Oyster Recovery Partnership, we’re keeping Maryland watermen working and protecting the viability of local businesses that rely on blue crabs, while giving the species time to rebuild,” said Governor Martin O’Malley. “Our State and federal government invested in work projects for watermen to help strengthen the industry for the future. The Chesapeake Bay also benefits from these projects that utilize watermen’s skills, gear and intimate knowledge of the Bay to help restore oyster bars, an important habitat for blue crabs.”

This week more than 100 watermen worked to recover and clean approximately 100 acres of oyster bars in Tangier Sound and the Patuxent and Severn Rivers. Watermen used their boats and dredge equipment to remove silt and sediment from the tops of once historically healthy oyster bars in order to prepare them for a natural spat set and/or hatchery seed planting.

“This work really helped keep us in business and boost the local economy,” said Calvert County Waterman’s Association President Tommy Zinn, who led crews working in the Patuxent River this week. “This is a good program that’s helping the heart of crabbers. The work that we are doing will hopefully help strengthen the industry down the road by improving our local oyster bars.”

Every year, the Chesapeake Bay loses 2,600 acres of hard bottom oyster habitat. By the end of these projects watermen will have reclaimed shell on 1,000 acres of oyster reefs.

“This is a good project that helps put more oysters in the bay,” said JR Gross, owner of JVE Seafood and leader of crews working in the Severn River this week. “I’m proud to be a part of this project because it will really have a positive impact. I’m very optimistic about this program and hope that we can expand it in the future.”

Earlier this year, the O’Malley-Brown Administration took historic action, in cooperation with Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine, to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s beleaguered blue crab population by reducing the harvest of ecologically valuable female blue crabs by 34 percent in 2008.

In September 2008, in response to a request from Governors O’Malley and Kaine, NOAA‘s National Marine Fisheries Service declared a federal fishery disaster for Chesapeake Bay watermen and women who have suffered economic hardships due to the extremely low and unstable blue crab population as well as the downturn in the national economy.

Earlier this week, Governor O’Malley thanked the leadership of Maryland’s Congressional Delegation for securing $10 million in federal fishery disaster funding for Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay blue crab industry. These federal funds compliment the $3 million in capital funds set aside by the Governor and General Assembly to pay for the restoration work that started this week.

For more information about Maryland’s efforts to rebuild the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population visit www.dnr.maryland.gov/dnrnews/infocus/blue_crab.asp .

Source: The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

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