When Captain John Smith first explored the Chesapeake in 1608, he wrote that oysters “lay thick as stones.” But this cornerstone of the Bay’s environment, economy, and culture is at a fraction of historic levels.
After decades of restoration work, together we are making progress restoring the Bay’s native oyster population. And two pieces of legislation before the Maryland General Assembly would take restoration efforts even further. One proposes the permanent protection of the state’s five Chesapeake Bay tributaries where oyster restoration work is underway or planned to take place. The other proposes the creation of an oyster fishery management plan. Take action now—urge your legislators to support Maryland’s oysters!
|Oysters are a keystone species of the Chesapeake Bay. Photo by Bob Diller.
Five tributaries are key to the Bay’s oyster recovery in Maryland, including Harris Creek—the country’s largest oyster restoration project. With more than two billion oysters planted, the restored oyster population in Harris Creek filters the entire volume of the creek in less than ten days in the summer and can remove more than one million pounds of nitrogen annually.
Significant public investments in large-scale restoration projects are working, but there is talk of opening these five tributaries for harvest. House Bill 298/Senate Bill 448 would protect these public investments, demonstrating Maryland’s strong commitment to oysters and clean water, and providing tremendous ecosystem benefits to the Bay and the citizens of Maryland.
Beyond these five tributaries, the recent Maryland oyster stock assessment reveals an overall decline in the oyster population in the state, concluding that oysters are overfished in the majority of Maryland waters. Changes are needed to the management of the oyster fishery, a challenging prospect given the long history and contentious nature of oyster fishery management in Maryland.
To change this dynamic, House Bill 720/Senate Bill 830 would implement a new approach to oyster fishery management. Developed by scientists at the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, this proven, consensus-based method uses a scientific model to provide stakeholders with objective analysis of the impacts of proposed management actions. The legislation also provides public engagement opportunities and increases transparency, so all stakeholders can put forward a plan that reverses the decline of Maryland’s oysters and rebuilds their capacity to support clean water, healthy habitat, and a sustainable and vibrant fishery.
Restoring the Bay’s native oyster population is a substantial undertaking. Will you join us in this fight? Tell your legislators to support Maryland’s oysters and pass this critical legislation!
For the Bay,
Allison Colden, Ph.D
Maryland Fisheries Scientist
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
P.S. Take the next step and urge your legislators to support these bills in person. Join us for our Oyster Lobby Day, March 1!