News from the DNR Office of Communications

DNR Reminds Marylanders That New Oyster Sanctuaries Are In Effect

NRP Steps Up Enforcement as Oyster Season Kicks Off

Annapolis, MD (September 30, 2010) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reminds all Marylanders that new sanctuaries, as set forth in Governor Martin O’Malley’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, are in effect for this year’s oyster season, which begins October 1. Natural Resources Police (NRP) officers will be out on the water, patrolling sanctuaries and stepping up enforcement.

“After years of study and months of negotiation, our new regulations are in effect,” said DNR Secretary John Griffin. “This is a significant step forward toward saving our native oyster population for future generations of Marylanders; we must not let a few wanton poachers destroy all our hard work.”

The Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development plan increases Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat; increases areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture and streamlines the permitting process; and maintains 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable, and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

“Our officers will be out protecting our most valuable resource,” said NRP Superintendent George Johnson. “Marylanders have invested significant time, money and effort into restoring our native oyster. We must protect our investment which is critical to the future health of the Chesapeake Bay both ecologically and economically.” In addition to any points assigned to the license, conviction of harvesting oysters from a leased area, an oyster sanctuary, oyster reserve, or area closed for public health will result in suspension of a person's tidal fish license or authorization for up to 365 days during the oyster harvest season.

Since 1994, the Chesapeake Bay oyster population has languished at 1 percent of historic levels. Over the past 25 years, the amount of suitable oyster habitat has declined by 80 percent — from 200,000 acres to just 36,000 acres; Maryland’s annual oyster harvest has fallen from an average of 2.5 million bushels to an average of 141,000 bushels during the past five years; and the number of oystermen working Maryland’s portion of the Bay has dwindled from more than 2000 in the mid-1980s to just 550 last season.

More than 1,000 interested citizens took the time to review and comment on Maryland’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development plan since Governor O’Malley announced the plan in December. Especially noteworthy is that about half of those who provided input did so at four open houses hosted by DNR’s Fisheries Service during the month of January.

DNR understands that this plan may result in short-term economic impacts to the industry. To mitigate this impact, DNR is developing watermen work programs to facilitate restoration efforts. Funding for these efforts comes from $15 million of federal blue crab fishery disaster money and state capital funds, received in response to a request from Governor O’Malley and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine, and advocacy by the Maryland Congressional Delegation under the leadership of Senator Barbara Mikulski. Watermen assisted DNR in rehabilitating oyster bar habitat and retrieving ghost (abandoned) crab pots this past winter. Additional oyster bar rehabilitation work will be available for watermen this winter.

Aquaculture is now the predominant means of shellfish harvesting around the world; next door in Virginia it is already a $30 million business. University of Maryland economists estimate that over the next several years, our oyster aquaculture plan could create 225 full-time equivalent jobs and generate $25 million in annual economic impact.


   September 30, 2010

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell
jdavidsburg@dnr.state.md.us

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 461,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov