Oyster Management Review

In 2010, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources overhauled its regulations for the management of the oyster resource in the Maryland portion of Chesapeake Bay with the intent of advancing oyster restoration. The regulations expanded the scale of oyster sanctuaries, created new opportunities for oyster aquaculture, and designated areas to be maintained for the public fishery with the intent of advancing oyster restoration. Two foundational documents encapsulating the state of the science and extensive public input regarding oyster restoration guided the development of the 2010 regulatory action: Maryland’s Oyster Advisory Commission’s 2008 Report Concerning Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay Oyster Management Program (January 2009), and the state/federal Final Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Oyster Restoration in Chesapeake Bay.

Together, these documents represent the synthesis of years of collaborative work among managers, scientists and stakeholders, provide updated science and reaffirm the dual goals of restoring oysters for their ecological services and enhancing a commercial fishery for its economic and cultural benefits to the Chesapeake Bay region. Both the Oyster Advisory Commission report and the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement recommend expanding sanctuary areas, increasing aquaculture and creating a scientifically based management framework for the public oyster fishery as strategies to meet these goals. 

The preamble of the 2010 proposed oyster regulation states:

“The Department has committed to reviewing the effectiveness of the locations of sanctuaries, public shellfish fishery areas, and aquaculture areas every 5 years and to propose changes where needed."

The three types of management areas identified in the preamble are defined as follows:

  • Sanctuary – Areas permanently closed to oyster harvest. Some sanctuaries have been targeted for extensive oyster restoration projects to potentially accelerate the recovery of oyster populations within the sanctuary, increase their environmental benefits, and contribute to enhancement of populations outside the sanctuary.
  • Public Shellfish Fishery Areas – Areas where shellfish are harvested for commercial purposes. Oyster aquaculture leases are not allowed in these areas unless a petition to declassify a specific area is approved. For declassification to occur, specific criteria for oyster density must be shown through a biological survey.
  • Aquaculture – Areas where aquaculture leases are issued by the state to individuals and or/ business for private aquaculture.

A report reviewing the effectiveness of the locations of sanctuaries, public shellfish fishery areas, and aquaculture areas was completed in July 2016 and July 2021.

This website will be used to provide access to the report and background information referenced in the report.

2016-2020 Report 

2010-2015 Report

Background Information