DNR to Hold Open Houses on State Oyster Proposal

Staff will answer questions and register public comment on Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan at four locations this month

ANNAPOLIS (January 6, 2010) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will hold four open houses this month on Maryland’s proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, announced by Governor Martin O’Malley in December. The open houses are designed to inform citizens and serve as the formal scoping meetings for the plan. The open house in southern Maryland will be held in Solomons on January 26.

Since 1994, the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has languished at 1 percent of historic levels; quality oyster bars have decreased 80 percent (from 200,000 acres to 36,000 acres) and the number of harvesters has dwindled from 2,000 in the mid 1980s to just over 500. Today there are 18 remaining oyster processing companies in Maryland, down from 58 in 1974.

“This plan is built on the findings of a 6-year Environmental Impact Study of oyster restoration options, and the diligent work of the Oyster Advisory Commission and the Aquaculture Coordinating Council,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “It is designed to enhance oyster restoration for ecological purposes and encourage the development of aquaculture businesses, while continuing to support a more targeted and sustainable public oyster fishery.”

Aquaculture is now the predominant means of shellfish harvesting around the world, and a multimillion dollar commercial industry in neighboring Virginia.

Each open house will consist of a 60-poster display that will take citizens through the elements of the plan. Members of the DNR Shellfish Program team will be on hand to answer questions and solicit comments. The sessions will run for 7 to 8 hours during the day and evening allowing ample opportunity for the public to attend. The public is welcome to come at any time, and stay as long as they need. Visitors should anticipate it taking about 1 hour to review the displays.

As proposed, the plan will:

-- Increase Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries — from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat. Sanctuaries allow oysters to live longer, spawn without harvest pressure and, over time, develop natural resistance to disease. DNR is also undertaking a number of enforcement reforms, including a collaborative effort with federal partners to install a network of radars and cameras that will help Natural Resources Police monitor oyster sanctuaries and prevent poaching.

-- Increase areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamline the permitting process. This is based on the legislation Governor O’Malley sponsored in 2009 and unanimously approved by the General Assembly, and will include the opening of 95,524 acres of natural oyster bars and hundreds of thousands of acres on the lower Eastern Shore to leasing.

-- Maintain 167,720 acres of natural oyster bars for the wild oyster fishery, including 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat. This will allow for continued support of a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

A copy of the open house material will be available on Thursday at www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/oysters. The dates, times and open house locations are:

Upper Eastern Shore: January 7, 12:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Easton Armory, 7111 Ocean Gateway, Easton, MD 21601

Upper Western Shore: January 14th, 12:30 - 8:00 p.m.
MD Dept. of Agriculture, Harry S. Truman Building
50 Harry S Truman Parkway, Annapolis, MD 21401-8960

Lower Eastern Shore: January 20th, 12:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Black Diamond Lodge
PO Box 299, Rt. 13 North, Fruitland MD 21826

Lower Western Shore: January 26th, 12:00 to 8:00 p.m.
Solomons Volunteer Rescue Squad
13150 H.G. Trueman Rd., Solomons, MD 20688

Source: Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR)

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