St. Patty’s Seafood:
O’Malley’s Oysters With a Dash of Hope
In this issue we bring you the story of a waterman’s experience at the end of oyster season. You’ll get a taste of what it takes to make a living on Chesapeake Bay.
And rare is their assurance of brighter days. While this year’s harvest was fair, Chris Judy, a Department of Natural Resources shellfish expert, says low spat-sets suggest that coming harvests might not be strong. There’s the matter, too, of road salt pouring into the Bay and its tributaries along with all that polluted runoff not the recipe for thriving oysters.
Negative oyster predictions hardly amount to news given what we’ve been through with Dermo and MSX. Nor is the debate about what to do next given the single-minded drive by Virginia to plant Chinese oysters in the Bay despite warnings from no less an authority than the National Academies of Science.
But there’s a political change afoot, and we saw it this week when Gov. Martin O’Malley peered into an oyster spawning tank to watch oysters do their spring thing at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science on the Eastern Shore.
First, it was great to see O’Malley getting an up-close lesson in the life cycle of the Chesapeake’s famed virginica oysters (even if he looked a bit out of place in a dark suit and a perfectly knotted tie.)
What was most encouraging was O’Malley’s agreement to help House Speaker Michael Busch of Anne Arundel County find $9 million for expanding the Cambridge research facility even though the construction wasn’t part of the governor’s budget. That legislation also strengthens penalties for oyster poaching and sets up a task force on oyster restoration.
We’re normally suspicious of new task forces and commissions dealing with the Chesapeake on the grounds that we need action, not more studies and the delays that come with them. But with oysters, at this point in time, the issues are different.
The main reason is that O’Malley has turned Maryland’s attention away from the pipe dream of seeding Asian ariakensis oysters.
We understood former Gov. Robert Ehrlich’s commitment to at least testing adaptability and safety of the Chinese oysters. But unlike the Virginia seafood industry, which is driving that state’s ongoing fascination with seeing the Asian oysters take hold here, we accepted the conclusion of some of America’s foremost researchers who warned that introducing a fast-growing invasive species could have consequences we might long regret.
Now, with O’Malley’s support, it’s time to move urgently forward with a coordinated plan to restore the native oysters that have sustained watermen and filtered the Bay for centuries.