MNR To Add Extra Day For Oysters After Positive Stock Assessment Update | national news
ANNAPOLIS – The Department of Natural Resources proposed a major easing of restrictions on oysters after a positive assessment of the oyster population in Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries was released in early June.
The 2021 oyster stock assessment update showed healthy gains in spat or juvenile oysters, as well as adult and market-sized oysters. It also determined that only three areas of Chesapeake Bay had been fished beyond criteria limits last year, an improvement over the 2018-19 seasonal assessment, when about 19 areas had been fished. reported.
In response, MNR proposed to make Wednesdays public fishing, increasing the number of oyster days by one, for a total of five days per week. And most of the upper and northern parts of Chesapeake Bay after the Bay Bridge, closed for two years, could also be open.
Rob Newberry, president of Delmarva Fisheries, which represents about 80% of Maryland’s oyster farmers, said relaxation was “major” news “for all seafarers.”
But his industry is also keen to see an increase in oyster bushel limits, which are currently capped at 24 bushels per day for a boat. MNR did not propose to increase the cap.
“We knew we weren’t going to hit a home run,” Newberry said in an interview. He has always called MNR’s proposals welcoming, because “historically, whatever administration, when the ministry takes something away from you – like taking the bottom, taking days, whether it’s fishing, crabbing. or hunting – very rarely have we recovered anything. . “
MNR is maintaining public comment until June 18 and will release its final regulatory decisions on July 1. Chris Judy, MNR’s shellfish director, said in a statement that “the stock assessment shows oyster populations are moving in the right direction. “
Judy explained that the decision to reinstate Wednesdays was in response to the positive assessment and changing market conditions during the pandemic, which limited oysters to fewer working days.
“Accordingly, the ministry recommends that, for the most part, we stay the course,” he said. “But we have to keep working to achieve our goals… under the proposal, the majority of the limits from the last two seasons would remain in place – season length, bushel limits, harvest curfew time.”
Watermen harvested 332,000 bushels last year, according to MNR data, an increase from 272,000 bushels last year. Newberry called this another positive sign from the oyster population, especially as boatmen worked fewer hours during the pandemic, which led to a drop in oyster sales.
“The guys were reaching their limits on opening day,” he said, “which means sustainability and a plethora of oysters to work with. Next year will be even better.”
The assessment shows that commercial size oysters (above the 3 inch minimum size limit) in the Bay Area have increased significantly to an approximate average of 500 million. The seed planted also exceeded 2 billion. The two categories register the third highest number since 1999.
Oyster populations reached record levels in 2003 following severe epidemics in the 1970s and 1980s. The population is believed to be at 1% of its historic peak in the late 1800s, when 15 million bushels were harvested. . Since then, watermen, MNR, and environmental organizations have strived to restore the population with increased management, planting efforts, and regulations.
Maryland fisheries scientist from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Allison Colden, said in a statement that the latest data on oyster spat were “encouraging,” but did not approve of a relaxation of the regulations.
“These periodic high spat events provide managers with a tremendous opportunity to continue to increase Maryland’s oyster population if managed with care,” she said. “However, some areas of the bay are experiencing chronic overfishing which threatens the persistence of oysters in these areas. A good year of spat taking will not solve this problem, especially if the number of oyster farmers continues to increase. MNR must adopt regulations that will combat overfishing and protect this year’s spat so that they can grow, reproduce and build new reef habitat.
Environmental organizations joined watermen, lawmakers and other interested parties in the Oyster Advisory Committee, which began meeting last year with renewed capacity.
CAO is working on a long-term solution to restore the oyster population and maintain a sustainable public fishery.