State plan would preserve wild oyster harvest

February 10, 2010

In his Feb. 7 op-ed "Oysters vs. Watermen," Christopher White claims the State's proposed Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development plan will broaden aquaculture "to the exclusion of a wild harvest." This is absolutely not true; in fact, the plan maintains 75 percent of the bay's most productive oyster bottom for the wild fishery.

The new plan, developed under the leadership of Gov. Martin O'Malley sets a course of action that will rebuild oyster populations for the bay, protect current jobs, and set a more sustainable course for both oysters and our oyster industry. Throughout the development of this plan our goal has been to protect the jobs of watermen while creating a more sustainable and growing future both for oysters and our struggling industry. Although much of the focus has been on the new sanctuaries to be established, the plan purposely maintains significant opportunities to harvest wild oysters while also providing a bridge for watermen interested in new aquaculture opportunities.

Aquaculture is now the predominant means of shellfish harvesting around the world; next door in Virginia it is already a $30 million business. University of Maryland economists estimate that over the next several years, our oyster aquaculture plan could create 225 full-time equivalent jobs and generate $25 million in annual economic impact. We know that transitioning into an aquaculture fishery cannot happen overnight. However, we also know that maintaining the status quo for oyster managment will neither support the industry nor restore oyster populations.

Over the past 25 years, we've lost 80 percent of our oyster bars, 90 percent of our harvest, 70 percent of our oyster processing companies and 75 percent of our oyster harvesters -- that's more than 1,500 watermen who can no longer make a living from the bay's oyster population. Our proposal is not a quick fix or a magic pill. It is a balanced proposal -- built on six years of scientific study by more than 90 scientists throughout the world -- for achieving a restored oyster population that will contribute to our ecosystem and our economy.

We invite Mr. White and all of your readers to take a few minutes to review the plan online at: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/fisheries/oysters/pdfs/OysterOpenHouseFINAL2a.pdf.

John Griffin, Annapolis

The writer is the secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

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