Groups support bid to revive native bay oysters

October 15, 2008|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,tim.wheeler@baltsun.com

Two leading environmental groups voiced their support yesterday for trying to revive the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster rather than introducing Asian oysters into the estuary.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation and the Nature Conservancy said they believe that native oyster restoration still holds promise - both ecologically and for the seafood industry - and does not pose the risks associated with putting Asian oysters into the bay.

"Given the available information, the combination of native oyster aquaculture and enhanced native restoration clearly provides the best potential for progress with the least amount of risk," said foundation President William C. Baker.

Officials with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Maryland and Virginia released a 1,500-page draft environmental impact statement yesterday evaluating different strategies for restoring the bay's oyster population, which has shrunk to 1 percent of historic levels because of disease and overharvesting.

The study looked at whether to put Asian oysters into the bay, focus on restoring native oysters, or both.

Native oyster restoration efforts to date have yielded meager results.

While studies have found that Asian oysters hold promise because they resist the diseases killing native oysters, the foreign species poses several risks, including hurting what's left of the native oysters or introducing yet another shellfish disease to the bay.

The study made no recommendations. Officials say they want public input on the alternatives to help them determine the right course.

Gov. Martin O'Malley issued a statement declaring that while the study "does not offer a definitive recommendation" on whether to put Asian oysters in the bay, "I remain concerned that the risk of such an irrevocable step could well outweigh any benefit."

Virginia officials have backed controlled experiments with sterile Asian oysters in their waters.

Six public meetings will be held to get input.

The Maryland sessions will be on Nov. 12 in Solomons, Nov. 13 in Annapolis and Nov. 14 in Cambridge.

A decision is expected next spring.

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