Bay needs more oysters, not more enforcement

January 11, 2010

All the recent emphasis on enforcing our way to a clean Bay is completely misguided. Bay water quality will continue to fall short because the bay lacks oysters -- which are nature's primary way of removing excess nutrients.

Everyone contributes to bay water quality impairments. We are on the right track with the point source investments that have been made as well as expecting greater efforts from agriculture, new development and urban storm water. However, we continue to deceive ourselves if we think attainable (and sustainable) controls from those sectors will restore the bay.

What will, however, is a robust supply of oyster credits that regulated sources of pollution and developers can purchase to offset their loadings. Thus, rather than a fatally misguided enforcement approach centered around inadequate loadings -- which will only breed conflict -- Maryland should establish an oyster trading program.

Such a program would optimally allow existing sources around the bay to buy Maryland oyster credits to offset existing or additional nutrient loadings. The dollars obtained would be used by the state to fund public and/or private contractors who would turn the dollars into oysters in the bay.

Such contractors would ideally include stewardship groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, which already has a modest oyster growing program. However, if we really want to make progress for the bay, rather than the few million oysters CBF currently reintroduces to the bay annually, we need them to introduce and manage many billions.

An efficient system to cost-effectively fund oyster replenishment in the bay is the its best hope. This will likely mean dollars from outside of Maryland will be directed to Maryland workers restocking Maryland's waters with oysters. Maryland should offer unlimited oyster credits in order to harness public and private dollars cost-effectively toward bay restoration. Conversely, the much ballyhooed enforcement approach is simply re-arresting the usual suspects, and in the case of point sources, for a crime they no longer commit and can't solve.

Paul Calamita, Richmond, Va.

The writer is an attorney with AquaLaw who represents local governments throughout the bay watershed.

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