Watermen Offer Plan to Harvest Oyster Sanctuary

HOLLYWOOD, Md. (Nov. 17, 2016)—The St. Mary's River is one of the best reproductive areas for the native oyster in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, watermen say, and they have offered a plan to open up the oyster sanctuary in the upper portion of the county's eponymous river to limited harvesting.

The plan has already drawn strong opposition from a local river preservation group, the St. Mary's River Watershed Association (SMRWA), which has long supported oyster sanctuaries started under the administration of former Gov. Martin O'Malley.

They worry that disturbing the oyster sanctuary would degrade the efforts to preserve the dwindling bi-valve believed to be one of the keys to restoring the health of the bay because of its pollutant filtering ability.

Robert T. Brown, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said the plan resembles closely the method of crop rotation used on farmland.

The proposal would divide the sanctuary into four parts, Brown told The County Times, with one section being made available for harvest for three to four weeks each season.

It would then be closed down with the addition of new shell at the site to encourage larval oysters, sometimes called spat, to bond to the shell and grow naturally.

That site would then remain closed for four more years, Brown said, while watermen could move on to the next section the following season and repeat the harvesting process.

The plan has already been forwarded to the state for consideration.

"That's one of the greatest striking areas for oysters to set in Maryland," Brown said.

Brown said the St. Mary's River has been a bountiful oyster spawning and growth area in recent years in a time when oysters only now seem to be making a recovery throughout the watershed.

Years of disease and bad weather conditions had decimated the population to just a fraction of its former abundance.

The SMRWA has already offered their own counter proposal, which includes preserving the entire area of more than 1,300 acres and even terminating the continued state-sponsored leasing of areas in the sanctuary for aquaculture but retain the ones that are currently operating.

The plan does call for increasing aquaculture opportunities for leasing further down the river away from the sanctuary; the plan would allow 30 acres of unproductive bottom in 2017 to open up to such leases.

The SMRWA plan also calls for only Maryland residents to hold these aquaculture leases.

For more local news stories, visit the County Times newspapers online at ct.somd.com

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