Volume 12, Issue 4 ~ January 22-28, 2004

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Chesapeake Outdoors ~ by C. D. Dollar

Risky Waters
I could just play it safe and wax eloquent on the life-affirming merits of righteous wild Canada tolls, or offer up some hackneyed prose on the thrill of bobbing like a cork in the testy Bay waters, taking potshots at diver ducks. At least in these environs, I know the playing field, although unpredictable, is the same for everyone.
So I won’t dive headfirst into two politically charged issues by making any bold assertions; rather I’ll dip my pinkie toe in these waters, as there is still much to be fleshed out. Plus, civil discourse is a good, albeit far too often neglected, exercise.

Since we’re done with the disclaimer, here’s the meat: Marylanders will have an opportunity to weigh in on two issues:

  1. The continuing debate over the role, if any, the non-native Asian oyster should play in Maryland and Virginia fisheries.

  2. The Freedom-to-Fish Act, a bill that several state and national fishing groups are pushing for.

The possible introduction of Asian oysters, supported by both Virginia and Maryland, will be the focus of an Environmental Impact Study by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The process starts with two public meetings to help determine the overall scope of the study: Monday, January 26, in Maryland; Wednesday, January 28, in Virginia.

Central to the Impact Study is a risk assessment to determine the potential negative — and irreversible — effects Asian oysters might have on the Bay ecosystem if non-native strains colonized.

Last summer’s report by National Research Council recommended caution, and more evidence is needed to responsibly sanction large-scale aquaculture or outright introduction of these non-native oysters. Understandably, commercial aquaculturists and seafood wholesalers want Asian oysters to bolster or even replace the near non-existent native oyster industry. Some have even called for releasing non-native oysters, sterile or not, wild into the Bay.

To his credit, Gov. Robert Ehrlich has instructed his experts at the Department of Natural Resources to let science guide the process. The Impact Study is one step in that direction, one that the public can participate in — or at the very least pay attention to.

The other issue deals with access to public fishing grounds. This debate is ongoing nationally, and sportfishing groups such as the Maryland Saltwater Sportsfishermen’s Association are in favor of some sort of state Right to Fish Act. These recreational angling groups say such a law would protect Maryland fishermen from the state closing fishing grounds unless they can scientifically defend the action. State Sen. Roy Dyson will introduce a bill on January 27, and Del. George Owings will offer a companion piece across the hall.

I haven’t seen the specific language for either fishing bill, but on its face, the concept has some merit — though I’m a little leery of the inflammatory rhetoric espoused by such national groups as the Recreational Fishing Alliance. On their website, they warn fishermen that they’re “firmly in the sights of a consortium of radical environmental groups that want to close vast areas of the ocean … and further restrict recreational fishing.”

If you care about the Bay’s fisheries, it’s important to pay attention to both of these happenings. Still, I’d much rather be fishing. At least I know where I stand when swimming with the real sharks.

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Last updated January 22, 2004 @ 1:07am.