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Volume 16, Issue 42 - October 16 - October 22, 2008
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Letter From the Editor

Now’s Your Chance to Speak up for Oysters

The oyster season has opened with a big splash. Not so with the oyster-harvesting season, which began this month. It will be good to eat a few Chesapeake oysters, even knowing they’re close to the last few. But the good news isn’t predictions of five million bushel catches in 2008. Historic trends continuing, Maryland oystermen will be lucky to harvest more this year than last year’s worst-ever harvest of just 80,000 bushels.

No, the big splash we’ve heard is all the words dropped this month into the debate on restoring oysters to their numbers between the years 1920 and 1970. Oysters don’t line up for census takers, so nobody knows how many of them then thrived in Chesapeake waters. But certainly enough that catches averaged 4.9 million bushels for all those years.

Of course that’s only about a third of the highs of the late 19th century. But how far can you turn back the clock? And how?

That all-important how is the cause of all the words being spoken and written about oysters.

At the Great Oyster Debate that opened Patuxent River Appreciation Days at Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons on Oct. 10, 70-some people listened to four hours of talk on oysters. University of Maryland cultural anthropologist Michael Paolisso explained how everybody’s got a different take — and stake. Close to a dozen other speakers and a couple dozen questioners in the audience proved him right. So it was no surprise that the Great Debate was all talk and no conclusions — beyond the fact that oysters are so good we need many more of them.

The Great Debate was prelude to an even bigger splash of words Oct. 14, from the 1,500 pages of the elusively titled Draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Oyster Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay. Five years in the making and a deadline or two late, that enormous document compiled and reviewed by “multitudes of scientists” is billed as the most ever known about oysters.

It knows everything about oysters except what we should do, starting next year, to renew a Baywide oyster population to mid-century levels.

Yes, it does seem like all that brainpower ought to have figured it out.

But its presenters — the half dozen or so who introduced it to reporters on its big day — say they can’t do that without your help. So they want you to read all 1,500 pages. You’ll find it at

Okay, some of the work has been done for you. From the eight alternatives defined going into the big study, two have been eliminated and the other six wrapped up into three combinations.

Certainly, native oyster restoration will continue, ideally as a much-bigger priority, demanding $50 to $70 million a year for a decade.

The wild card is that Asian oyster. Maybe it will go in the Bay. Virginia wants it; indeed, already has approved it. Maryland is suspicious. Very suspicious. Introducing that alien species is an “irreversible risk” said Maryland Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Director Tom O’Connell.

Shall we take that risk? That, the experts say, is up to you.

The forum convenes in Annapolis, Cambridge and Solomons from 6-9pm November 12 thru 14. Watch 8 Days a Week for details.

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