Governor O'Malley's oyster management and aquaculture development plan seeks to enhance both the economic and environmental benefits of oysters. Broad new sanctuaries are being created to protect survivors and manage diseases that have harmed the resource, while at the same time the public fishery will be supported through new public shellfish fishery areas.
The lease laws that passed the General Assembly unanimously in 2009 provided the first positive change for our oyster in over 100 years. This swept away decades of legal barnacles keeping shellfish aquaculture from advancing.
Diseases that devastated oysters have not been eradicated, but oyster production can be sustained despite disease through aquaculture, which can build our state into a major oyster producer again. Those in the seafood industry are likely to succeed with their knowledge of local areas and markets, but they must learn to manage grounds and monitor for survival and growth while selling when the prices are highest. During the past year groups of watermen have voiced interest in working cooperatively to raise and sell oysters. Others are waiting to get leases and begin production.
Oysters are amazing animals and an important part of Maryland's history. Bringing our oysters back won't be quick or easy, but it can be done. It will require teamwork and dedication from the public and private sectors as we rebuild our resource and the industry.
Don Webster, Queenstown
The writer is chairman of the Maryland Aquaculture Coordinating Council.