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Md. has its worst-ever oyster harvest
Fishery called 'virtually nonexistent'

By GRETCHEN PARKER
Associated Press
04/22/2004

ANNAPOLIS -- The once bountiful oyster reefs of the Chesapeake Bay yielded Maryland's worst-ever harvest this season, the secretary of the Department of Natural Resources said Wednesday.

Oystermen pulled in 15,000 to 18,000 bushels in the six-month season that ended last week, about a third of the previous record-low harvest of 53,000 bushels set last year.

The dismal catch led Mike Slattery, assistant DNR secretary, to proclaim Maryland's oyster fishery as "virtually nonexistent." Officials now believe the few oysters that were harvested grew from some of the millions of seeds scattered every year by the department scientists.

"Those oysters that were caught this year likely were the ones put in the water as part of our replenishment program," Slattery said. "What we have is essentially a put-and-take oyster fishery in Maryland."

A DNR survey in November estimated about 70 harvesters worked in Maryland's part of the bay and its tributaries, down from 437 harvesters last year and 2,500 in 1999.

"There wasn't that many people working. And the others didn't catch much," said Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association.

DNR added two weeks onto the season after a harsh winter to allow watermen to scrape the reefs a while longer.

Oystermen pay about $300 in license fees to gather oysters. But the low hauls caused about half of the licensed oystermen to give up on oysters and return to crabbing, Simns said.

Many gave up on their season soon after it opened Oct. 1, when they couldn't find enough legal-sized oysters to make a living, state scientists said.

Fifty years ago, Chesapeake watermen harvested a quarter of the oysters gathered nationwide. Maryland's harvest fell off rapidly in the 1980s and dropped to an all-time low last year, accounting for less than 2 percent of the nation's total.

Wednesday's news caused Simns and DNR Secretary Ron Franks to renew their calls for introducing nonnative oysters into the bay. The rugged Asian oysters are larger than native Chesapeake oysters, grow faster and reportedly are resistant to the diseases that plague the bay.

"As far as this agency is concerned," Asian oysters and restoring bay grasses are the Chesapeake's best hope for getting back a healthy ecosystem, Franks said.

In the early 1900s, the healthy reefs acted as lungs for the bay, filtering a volume of water equal to the bay about every three days.

"We need to restore the population that filters that water, because right now that water is filtered only about every three years," Franks said. "That's simply not enough water to give us a vibrant, healthy ecosystem."
 

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Wow!!! That stinks. Last time I was down there I bought a bunch from my in-laws neighbor. I didn't know they were in such bad shape. I still can't believe there are still blue crabs left in the Bay. When you realize how many they harvest down there, you have to wonder where they're all coming from.
 

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We all know the power of an moratorium and what positive affects it can have on an ecosystem-maybe our gov't could subsidise the waterman and place a full moratorium on the bay- the farm runoff is also a major problem due to overdevelopement- my father bought alot of property in rock hall and over the past twenty years or so he has watched the bay completely deteriorate-we used to troll for bluefish and catch upwards of 40-50 in one trip-those days are gone now-butn the striped bass has proven that mother-nature, if left alone can and will recover.Something needs to be done.
 

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Introduce non native oysters for 70 waterman? All the others have gone to crabbing, that's great also. Yet they keep screaming that the moratoriom on Stripers is the reason for the fall of the blue crab population. I think we should stop, and rethink for a while. Recreational fishing brings in a ton more money for the state, and certainly will not destroy the bay in the manner which comercial does. It also makes me sick to see all of the netting boats come in full to the gunnels with manhaden. Manhaden, sold for bait to Lousianna for crab bait. Seems to be a terrible cycle that makes the DNR look like morons to to both sides. I guess somebody is getting paid for the destruction of one of the greatest natural resources( or was) in the country.
 

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Please forgive the sarcastic/skeptical rantings of this feeble minded fisherman. I must vent. To be sure, all these thing have happened before in one way or another.

Is the introduction of non-native oysters the beginning of a trend of acceptance (by political/scientific/special interest standards) of non-native species across the board?

Don't zebra mussels improve water clarity? Why not put them in all dirty waters. Science can figure out the details. Hell, isn't this just a logical extension of mult-culturalism?

Let us hold out our arms to welcome to all foreign invaders. Does it matter what species of oyster inhabits the Chesapeake cesspool?
 
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