State takes more time on Asian oysters

Deadline extended for deciding to put species into the bay

December 15, 2005|BY A SUN REPORTER

Maryland officials have again extended their timetable for studying whether to introduce Asian oysters into the Chesapeake Bay.

The Department of Natural Resources said yesterday that a committee overseeing the environmental impact study has decided to give researchers until at least June to complete their work.

The committee, which includes Maryland Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks and his Virginia counterpart, W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., will evaluate the status of the report then.

"We've been criticized, I think unfairly, for hurrying the process," said Mike Slattery, an assistant secretary of DNR. "We recognize that we need bay-wide data, and it has taken longer than expected to get data that is specific to Virginia."

The amount of time needed to evaluate whether to put foreign oysters in the bay has been a flash point for some scientists. A report by the National Academy of Sciences recommended at least five years of research.

But Ehrlich administration officials have argued that Maryland needs to move more quickly to return oysters to the bay, both to help filter out pollution and to give watermen a crop to harvest.

The bay's native oyster population has been almost wiped out by disease and overharvesting.

Where millions of oysters were once harvested, Maryland's take last season was 72,000 bushels, up from an all-time low of 26,000 bushels in 2004.

"I think this is the third time they've been forced to change the timeline," said Bill Goldsborough, senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, yesterday.

"It's a step in the right direction, but it was an overly ambitious timeline to begin with. There are a lot of unknowns that need to be addressed," he said.

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