Dec 12 – OYSTER EXTRAVAGANZA 5-7pm. American Legion Post 296, 6200 Main St, Queenstown. 410-827-8182.
The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels, in conjunction with the Maryland Humanities Council, presents “State of the Oyster” on four consecutive Sundays beginning February 24, and continuing March 3, 10, and 17. The programs are free and open to the public, with advanced registration needed as space is limited.
The program takes place in the museum’s Van Lennep Auditorium, where a special art exhibition featuring paintings by renowned Chesapeake artist Marc Castelli and photographs by Heather Davidson will be on display, depicting the daily activities of watermen.
The “State of the Oyster” is the first in an annual series of public programming initiatives entitled “Community Conversations,” that emphasizes public discussion and outreach to new audiences. This program focuses on the status of the oyster fishery and its past, present, and future significance to different Bay communities.
On Sunday, February 24 from 2-4pm, “Oysters and People” focuses on the social history of the oyster production in order to address the long-term relationships Chesapeake Bay inhabitants have with oysters. The panel includes writer Tom Horton, author Christine Keiner, and folklorist James Lane.
On Sunday, March 3, from 4-6pm, “How Did We Get Here?” addresses the various factors contributing to the decline of the Chesapeake oyster populations and features excerpts from the SeaGrant film, “Who Killed Crassostrea virginica,” as well as presentations by researchers and watermen.
On Sunday, March 10, from 2-4pm, “Watermen, Traditions & Perspectives” features a panel of watermen and women presenting their experience-based perspectives on the history and future of Chesapeake oystering, and what it’s like to make a living under today’s difficult circumstances, changes they’ve seen in their lifetimes, and ideas about the future of the industry.
On Sunday, March 17, from 2-4pm, “Possibilities & Consequences” is the final session in the series and presents a panel of watermen, oyster researchers, and oyster farmers that will discuss the future of oysters and cover aquaculture, oyster shell recycling and seed moving, disease research and mitigation, and sanctuaries.
The project is supported by a generous grant from the Maryland Humanities Council and is free and open to the public. Space is limited, with advanced reservations recommended by emailing Helen Van Fleet at firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 410-745-4941. Visit www.cbmm.org for more information.
In photo: The Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (CBMM) in St. Michaels is presenting a new “State of the Oyster” program on four consecutive Sundays beginning February 24 and continuing through March 17. Generously supported by the Maryland Humanities Council, this free, public program focuses on the status of the oyster fishery and its past, present, and future significance to different Bay communities. The program takes place in the museum’s Van Lennep Auditorium, where paintings by renowned Chesapeake artist Marc Castelli and photographs by Heather Davidson will be exhibited throughout the program. Space is limited, with advanced registration needed. For more information, visit www.cbmm.org. Photo credit: Heather Davidson
By MATT FLEMING
Capital News Service
WASHINGTON — If there is any silver lining to the mayhem caused by superstorm Sandy, it’s this:
Maryland’s oysters, and the delicious holiday stuffing they make, are safe to eat.
Concerns loomed as millions of gallons of raw sewage leaked from the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant into the Little Patuxent River, and water poured from the Conowingo Dam into the Susquehanna River. But sources say this has had little impact on the fragile oyster population.
“This was a one-time event,” said Tom Zolper, Maryland communications coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. “What seems to be more damaging is steady runoff. I wouldn’t want to go swimming for a week or two, but the oysters will be fine.”
The oyster has had a long, storied history in the Chesapeake Bay. What was once an abundant population was brought to near-eradication from the Bay — but the oysters have rebounded through diligent efforts of municipalities and environmental interest groups.
“The good news for oysters is that we’re seeing some of the best mortality rates,” said Zolper, “which is an enormous success story.”
The oyster survival rate was 92 percent in 2011.
The dry year has mitigated the amount of fresh water that leeches from the Bay’s tributaries, diluting the brackish water downstream where oysters live. This water also carries silt, which can smother oysters; and nutrients from runoff, which can lead to hypoxic dead zones.
“Fortunately, Sandy happened in a dry year,” said Bill Goldsborough, Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s fisheries director. “A wet year, plus Sandy, may have been a problem.”
Although raw sewage is obviously harmful to the Bay’s delicate ecosystem, the spillage from the Little Patuxent Water Reclamation Plant was easily diluted by the Susquehanna River, said Mark Miller, press secretary for Howard County Executive Ken Ulman.
But besides volume, location also played a vital role.
“In terms of sewage outflow, the areas affected are not the areas with oysters,” said Steve Vilnit, the fisheries marketing director for Maryland Department of Natural Resources. The Maryland Department of the Environment “tested the water, which was fine.”
With health concerns abated, Marylanders can feel at ease when preparing holiday meals. After all, what is a Maryland Thanksgiving without turkey filled with oyster stuffing?
Watermen and other interested parties are invited to a workshop on Oyster Industry Aquaculture and Financing on Wednesday, May 2 from 9 am until noon at the University of Maryland’s Wye Research & Education Center. The program is sponsored by the Upper Shore Regional Council, University of Maryland Extension and the Maryland Department of Business Economic Development (DBED).
Speakers include Don Webster and Don Meritt of the University of Maryland who will cover aquaculture support programs and proper site selection for bottom culture. Webster coordinates an education and training program for UM Extension to provide a wide range of information to develop the industry. Meritt is in charge of the Horn Point Lab hatchery that produces millions of oysters annually for restoration and commercial aquaculture.
Karl Roscher, Director of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ new Aquaculture Division will discuss shellfish lease application procedures. He will also cover reporting requirements and available shell sources. Roscher heads the office created last year to coordinate all aquaculture permits.
Maryland has created support programs to encourage aquaculture including low interest loans and grants. Matt Parker, Shellfish Business Specialist with Extension, will provide the latest status on applying for them. Mindie Burgoyne, Regional Representative of the Department of Business and Economic Development will discuss the agency’s programs to assist watermen.
According to Cecil County Commissioner Jim Mullin, who assisted with organizing the event, “We need to support this sustainable and historic industry to provide economic growth and employment in our rural areas.” Doris Mason, Executive Director for the Upper Shore Regional Council, added that, “because our mission is to foster the physical, economic and soical development of the region, working jointly on a project like this with our partners is a great focus for us and the benefits are immediately evident.”
The workshop will include discussions of how aquaculture techniques could be used by watermen to rebuild public harvests. The production of oysters has fallen from 2.5 million bushels a year in the 1970s to only about 120,000 last year. However, with the development of new technology and strong markets, it is likely that this decline could be reversed. Maryland has emerged as a leader among states encouraging aquaculture production.
There is no charge for the workshop but those interested in attending are asked to contact Don Webster or Martha Milligan at the Wye Research & Education Center at 410-827-8056 email@example.com so that sufficient materials can be provided. The Center is located at 124 Wye Narrows Drive, Queenstown MD.
Five watermen have been charged with oyster violations in Dorchester County. Natural Resources Police said they found four watermen illegally diving for oysters in the Little Choptank River. Officers charged 36-year-old Bryan Grimes of Chester, 61-year-old Edward Grimes of Stevensville, 19-year-old Mason Coursey of Centerville and 19-year-old Christopher Marvel of Grasonville with catching oysters for commercial purposes by diving in an area reserved for hand-tonging. Officers returned four bushels of oysters to the water. About a half-hour later, police say officers found 42-year-old Nelson Goslin Jr. of Cambridge power dredging for oysters in Fishing Bay. Goslin is charged with possessing unculled and undersized oysters and power-dredging in a hand-tonging area. Three bushels of oysters were returned to the water.
After seeing his name in media reports, 19-year-old Mason Coursey of Centreville notified the NRP that the individual identified as Mason Coursey is an imposter. Investigators say the imposter apparently took the license from the real Coursey’s boat. The suspect remains at large but the NRP says an arrest is imminent.
By GREG MASTERS
Capital News Service
ANNAPOLIS – The Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population has plummeted since the late 1960s, when Willy Dean, a Maryland waterman since the age of 17, would go hand tonging with his father and “load the boat with oysters.”
“The catch is way, way down from what it was back then,” Dean said.
The population is so low that several scientists recommended a complete halt on oyster harvesting in a study published in August by the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science. But a moratorium has not gained traction among watermen and state officials, who see the industry as an important tradition and a small but significant part of the state’s economy.
“People would have to get other jobs, leave the business. And once they leave, they don’t come back,” said Casey Todd, manager of Metompkin Bay Oyster Company, which operates an oyster shucking house in Somerset County. “You can bring the oysters back but you’re not going to bring these people back,” he said.
That would mean the end of what Todd and others see as an integral part of Maryland’s culture and history.
“We’ve been doing it for generations. My great-great-great grandfather did it,” Todd said.
Maryland should work to retain “even a small portion of that old business,” said Delegate Jay Jacobs, a Republican who represents all or parts of Kent, Queen Anne’s, Caroline and Cecil counties, and is a fourth-generation resident of Rock Hall on the Eastern Shore.
“Even though the numbers are very low as far as the catch goes, I think it’s important that we maintain that view of that heritage,” said Jacobs, who recently boarded a Chesapeake Bay Foundation boat to watch hatchery-produced oyster spat being placed on a sanctuary reef.
Plagued by disease, overfishing and habitat loss, the bay’s oyster population — once the nation’s largest fishery — has declined nearly 100 percent since the early 1800s and 92 percent since 1980, according to the recent study.
Michael Wilberg, the study’s chief researcher, argues a complete halt to fishing is necessary to restore populations and reefs.
“We think that fishing pressure has been one of the more important forces that’s been acting on oysters over the last probably 150 years or so, and that reducing or eliminating that fishing mortality on oysters would provide them an additional opportunity to begin to recover,” said Wilberg, who works in the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory in Solomons.
Based partly on recommendations from the state’s Oyster Advisory Commission, which issued its legislative report in February 2009, Maryland recently expanded its network of oyster sanctuaries but stopped short of a full moratorium.
William Eichbaum, former chairman of the commission, said he started out believing a moratorium might be the solution. But leaving oysters alone, with neither fishing nor investments in restoration, would be a “gamble,” he said.
“My own view, as the commission worked, evolved to the point where I didn’t think that (a moratorium) was the single-bullet solution to the problem,” Eichbaum said, adding that even without fishing, investments would be necessary to help restore the population.
With disease a significant short-term challenge, Eichbaum came to the conclusion that a “large-scale, well-designed sanctuary program” would be sufficient to give oysters an opportunity to develop disease resistance and bounce back. Most oysters in the state’s restoration efforts come from UMCES’s Horn Point Oyster Hatchery.
Eichbaum said he has not seen Wilberg’s study, but a group of scientists and fisheries managers — members of the Bay Foundation’s Fisheries Goal Implementation Team — is reviewing management options for the oyster fishery based on the latest science, said Stephanie Westby, oyster coordinator for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Chesapeake Bay office.
Members of that group “have some interest in creating some process whereby the new science and old science, the best available science … can be reviewed, and to try to evaluate the status of the wild fishery in order to help drive management options,” Westby said.
Officials at the Department of Natural Resources argue a complete moratorium is unnecessary and would hurt the state’s economy.
“We have already put 24 percent of our oyster grounds into a moratorium, and we are committed to studying how that affects populations of oysters in those areas over a five-year timeframe,” said Michael Naylor, assistant director of the shellfish program at the Department of Natural Resources Fisheries Service.
Slightly more than 100,000 oyster bushels were harvested in the 2010-2011 season. While dramatically lower than harvests of several decades ago, last season’s harvest had a dockside value of more than $3 million, according to the Department of Natural Resources.
Harvested oysters have their shells pried open in shucking houses, which adds value, before going to distributors and supermarkets.
“There’s this whole vertical structure between (a waterman) and that eventual buyer, all of which would be affected locally by a moratorium,” Naylor said.
Naylor said the fishery’s direct impact on Maryland’s economy is probably between $10 million and $15 million.
“That’s not nothing in anybody’s book,” he said.
But the sanctuaries, which are sometimes targets of poaching and are starting to be opened for aquaculture leases, are not enough, said Mechanicsville resident Ken Hastings, a longtime environmental activist who supports a moratorium.
“I can’t think of another resource that anyone would allow to get down to 0.1 percent of its historical abundance and still insist on going out and indiscriminately killing,” Hastings said. “You wouldn’t do that with deer or pheasants or black bear or anything like that.”
The oyster habitats are so diminished that a moratorium would have little impact on the industry’s cultural importance in Maryland, Hastings said.
“I think the cultural significance is pretty much gone, and I don’t see that coming back, certainly in my lifetime,” he said.
Lowered salinity levels in the upper Chesapeake Bay are being blamed for an intense but also concentrated die-off of oysters. State biologists say the die-off is limited to two areas north of the Bay Bridge and affected about two-percent of the state’s overall oyster harvest. The oyster bars hit hardest along the mouth of the Magothy River and Patapsco River, and also near Rock Hall. The “Baltimore Sun” says scientists also found that other oyster bars in the Bay, including some north of the Bay Bridge, were relatively unscathed. The die-offs are attributed mainly to an increase in the amount of fresh water flowing into the bay going back to the spring. State officials say it is a not an uncommon result when that happens.
A new report recommends halting all commercial harvesting of oysters in Maryland. The study, led by researchers with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, warns the oysters are even more depleted than previously believed. The report concludes the oyster population in Maryland’s portion of the bay has fallen to just 0.3% of what it was before intensive commercial harvesting began in the late 1800s.
Oysters and crabs are on the agenda for researchers meeting to discuss sustainable fisheries in the Chesapeake Bay. The group includes managers and scientists from around the Chesapeake Bay who focus on using science to make fisheries management decisions that cross state lines. The researchers plan to discuss an in-depth assessment of the bay’s blue crab population and how it can be used to manage the harvest. A final draft expected this summer will be used along with the annual winter dredge survey to guide crab management. Measurement of progress in restoration of the bay’s oyster population and the next steps in the restoration also will be discussed.
Researchers in Virginia want to determine whether blue crabs and finfish have a hankering for oysters. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science plans to use a high-tech camera system this summer to monitor blue crabs and other predators feeding on oysters. The Daily Press reports that the study’s findings could bolster efforts to rebuild oyster reefs in the bay. The cameras will be placed in the York, Piankatank, Lynnhaven and Great Wicomico Rivers.