State rejects push to ban bay oystering New size limits,delays in season to be debated

June 15, 1991|By Mary Knudson

Ruling out the three-year oystering moratorium proposed by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, state officials said yesterday that they would consider further limits on the size of oysters eligible for harvest and delaying the start of the next season to October.

W. Peter Jensen, director of fisheries for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said he is thinking about raising the 3-inch-diameter minimum size for harvest or restricting the catch to oysters between 3 and 5 inches.

"Late in the summer, we will decide" on the size restrictions and monthlong delay in the season -- after state officials have assessed the toll of disease afflicting Chesapeake oysters and have met with watermen to discuss what steps to take, Mr. Jensen said. A moratorium is out of the question, though. "It would shut down a $25 million industry annually," he said.

"We don't see where it would accomplish anything," Mr. Jensen said. Some 200,000 of the bay's 283,000 acres reserved for oystering are already in sanctuary because the numbers of oysters are not plentiful enough to make it worth watermen's time to work there, Mr. Jensen said. But oysters have not recovered in the sanctuaries, he said. The biggest problem is disease caused by parasites, he said.

In unveiling a new book about the bay's health this week, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation said oysters have dropped to about 1 percent of the bay's historic supply and it blamed disease, overfishing and erosion of oyster beds.

The DNR is working to restore beds in the bay, and that approach, coupled with "prudent management strategy," offers the most promise for restoring the oyster population, said Jerald S. Ault, a research scientist at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

But Roger Newell, associate professor of marine biology at the Horn Point Environmental Laboratories near Cambridge, suggested a ban "for the foreseeable future" in what may be the richest bay oyster region -- the Upper Choptank River above the Cambridge Bridge. The ban should last longer than even 10 years, he said.

That area should be a brood stock sanctuary, Dr. Newell said, because it is a part of the bay that has little salinity and therefore discourages growth of the diseases.

Quite simply, he said, "We're not having enough adult oysters breeding."

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