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Volume xviii, Issue 5 ~ February 4 - February 10, 2010

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Can You Have Your Oyster And Eat It, Too?

That’s the conundrum complicating Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan

“Fat as butter,” oysterman and oyster merchant Don Sheckells said as he filled our half-bushel basket with treasures that resembled mud-encrusted rocks. Big as baking potatoes and dredged from an old bed off Chesapeake Beach, the oysters were living tribute to Chesapeake Bay’s determination to grow oysters.

Our Saturday night’s dinner of steamed oysters was so good and Sheckells’ word so true that we ate oysters again Sunday, patted with bread crumbs and oven-fried.

This is the season for oysters. Watermen harvest them, and oyster lovers eat them.

This is also a season of change for oysters, and most especially for oystermen.

For oysters, especially Maryland’s native Crassostrea virginica, the news is good.

Reports are good at the level of tong and dredge. Sheckells and the oystermen he works with found oysters to harvest. They didn’t find much sign of the diseases that are one of the forces that almost drove oysters from our Bay.

News is good on the policy front, too. Last year, massive, many-year studies concluded that native oysters could be restored in our Bay. That decision sent an Asian contender species packing and concentrated effort and money on our oysters.

The restoration of native oysters is also good news for the Chesapeake. “If we can bring native oysters back to a very abundant level,” Tom O’Connell, director of fisheries for Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, told Bay Weekly, “I’m optimistic we’ll see some effects on water quality as well as habitat.”

Now Maryland Department of Natural Resources is working out just how they’ll be restored.

This month, we’re expecting to read all about it in Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan.

The new plan is for many oysters put in the Bay to stay in the Bay to boost its vitality. A quarter of supported oyster beds would now become sanctuaries where harvesting would never be allowed.

Another part of the plan urges watermen to switch from hunting to farming, becoming aquaculturists.

The plan is such bad news for watermen that waterwoman Rachel Dean — the subject of a Bay Weekly story last August 27 — wrote me an 1,150-word letter, arguing it point by point.

In objecting to sanctuaries, Dean argues that the plan promotes a “myth [that] is going to allow our natural oyster population to continue to suffocate” for want of the bar-cleansing effect of “oystermen turn[ing] over the bottom of our rivers and the Bay.”

Against aquaculture, she argues that “the logistics of undertaking such an enterprise” — scarce shell for beds; expensive spat or seed; the threat of poachers — are made for failure.

Who’s right, the watermen, who speak from experience, or the regulators, backed by the power of science?

I suspect that the side you take depends on the goal you’re seeking: oysters enough to restore the Bay or oysters enough to harvest. With Bay oysters at one percent of their historic levels, there’s reason to believe we can’t have our wild oyster and eat it, too.

Sandra Olivetti Martin

editor and publisher; [email protected]


© COPYRIGHT 2010 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.

from the Editor

Editor’s note:

Your thoughts, please, on Bay Weekly’s movie reviews.

With this issue, Cineman writes The End to its 35 year-run as a subscription service syndicating movie reviews to newspapers — including Bay Weekly since December, 1999 — and online. “Given the state of the newspaper business and the overall economy, it is no longer a financially viable enterprise,” writes John P. McCarthy, 10-year editor and publisher of the syndicate founded by Jay A. Brown.

Please help Bay Weekly plot its course without Cineman.

• Have movie reviews, both full length and brief, been a Bay Weekly feature you’ve used and enjoyed?

• Do you read them for pleasure?

• To guide your movie choices?

• Do you use Bay Weekly’s movie times when you’re planning to go to the movies?

I want to know what you think. Please tell me at [email protected].