New safeguards added to permit for foreign oysters in Chesapeake

Agencies' concerns met

Corps' OK expected soon

April 03, 2003|By Gabriel Baird | Gabriel Baird,CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON - Virginia and federal officials expect to begin issuing permits within days for a controversial test of foreign oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, after adding new safeguards to address opponents' remaining concerns.

Three federal agencies had appealed the Army Corps of Engineers' preliminary approval of a plan to put about 1 million neutered Asian oysters in the Chesapeake to see if they can survive and help restore the bay's oyster industry. The agencies had protested that the foreign species could bring unforeseen problems.

The appeals were dropped last week after the Virginia Seafood Council agreed to new restrictions intended to reduce the chances of the non-native Crassostrea ariakensis species reproducing in the bay.

"Those plans need to be in place before the oysters can be put in the bay," said Peter Colosi, a division chief for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. It had appealed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.

One of the most important of the concessions was the Corps' agreement to require that the oysters - placed in the water in confined mesh bags, cages or trays - be removed by June 30 of next year. That would leave the oysters less time to mature and possibly breed than the permit from the Virginia Marine Resources Commission, which allowed the oysters to stay in the bay until April 2005. Still, officials said the federal permit could be extended.

One fear is that the foreign oyster could muscle out the native oyster and spread along the East Coast, if it is able to reproduce in the bay.

"There are some conditions we would prefer not to have, but we have them and we will work with them," said Frances Porter, the seafood council's executive director.

A Corps official said final approval on the federal permit could come next week, while state officials said the Virginia permit could be granted this week. The first oysters could be in the bay as soon as June, Porter said.

The council also agreed to submit emergency plans before any oysters can go in the water and post bonds to clean up any problems if they occur.

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