Volume XI, Issue 34 ~ August 21-27, 2003

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

On Bay Oysters, We Should All Be Watching

Headed up the Wye River, I skirted Bennett Point at full throttle, skidding across the icy-smooth water like an out-of-control speed skater. It was a good thing, a rejuvenating tonic to spending unnatural stretches of time transfixed to a computer terminal. On the water, I feel like Rat of The Wind in the Willows.

I was running late to meet Capt. Karl Willey, who runs the Bay Foundation’s tricked-out oyster restoration boat, Patricia Campbell. Outfitted with a two-ton crane, hoppers to hold mounds of oysters and shell and mechanized conveyor belts that make relatively quick work of moving huge quantities of reef building material, the boat is well suited for large-scale oyster restoration.

Working with a private leaseholder of good hard-bottom river, we off-loaded 40 tons of shell in about five hours. Eventually, the sanctuary reef will be seeded with thousands of juvenile oysters that, planters hope, will jump-start nearby natural reefs and improve local water quality and habitat.

The project is just one of the dozens around the Bay that public and private partners are building to move forward toward the Bay Agreement goal of restoring native oysters tenfold by 2010.

Last week, the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council released its long-awaited report on potential effects of introducing Asian oysters into the Chesapeake. The authoritative committee concluded that allowing a reproductive population of foreign oysters should be delayed until more is known about the potential environmental risks.

“There is concern that non-native oysters could become another obstacle to native oyster restoration without providing significant relief to the oyster industry,” wrote committee co-chair Jim Anderson, a fisheries economist at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston. “Confined aquaculture of non-native oysters will provide much-needed information while allowing more time for recovery of the native oysters.”

Non-native introductions into marine systems are a tenuous gamble and harbor a decent chance for unpredictable, perhaps irreversible, impacts. But Asian oysters as strictly monitored aquaculture, done prudently, is a fair gamble. Virginia is ahead of Maryland in setting up for Asian-oyster aquaculture. But Maryland intends to catch up, and fast — perhaps using Asian oysters in the wild.

A Boston Globe story quotes Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ top man, Ron Franks, as saying “We cannot bet our future on the native oyster. We will not be cavalier in the introduction, but nor will we be timid.” In the article he also pledges to introduce fertile Asian oysters as soon as safely possible.

Maryland fisheries managers vowed to finish an environmental impact study in one year instead of the usual three to five, which speaks volumes about the state’s intentions for Asian oysters. Coastal states are watching Chesapeake states very closely to see what happens.

We all should be watching.

Let’s not be hypnotized by the glitter of something new. Remember that the Bay Agreement commits the Bay states and the EPA — who have invested tens of millions of dollars and countless hours of study and innovation — to restoring native oysters. Let’s move forward, cautiously, with Asian oysters and do something that seems to be eroding in our world: sticking to your word and seeing a project through.

Read the full report at www.national-academies.org.



© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated August 21, 2003 @12:32am