Maryland oyster population. (Photo: dnr.state.md.us)
Study recommends reducing oyster harvesting, draws criticism
Monday, September 05, 2011, 23:30 (GMT + 9)
A recently published study reported that oyster stocks in Maryland are lower than previously thought and advised imposing a moratorium on the bivalves’ harvesting. The researchers attributed the decline to overfishing as a primary cause as well as disease as a pivotal factor since the 1950s.
Published in Marine Ecology Progress Series, the study says that the oyster population is at 0.3 per cent of historic levels, or less than half of the 1 per cent amount that policy makers have used for several years.
"Habitat degradation and disease are a problem — it's just that fishing on top of that compounds the problem," said Michael Wilberg, a fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory and lead author of the study, The Baltimore Sun reports.
The study's authors -- researchers at the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science (UMCES), the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Northrop Grumman – say that fishing has had a bigger impact on oysters than natural mortality since 1986. If fishing had stopped at that time, adult abundance would be 15.8 times greater than the current figures.
Watermen have continued to harvest about 25 per cent of the remaining oysters every year since 1980, according to the scientists’ estimate, which has continued to slash the population.
DNR Secretary John Griffin responded by arguing that the study ignores the state's recently enacted oyster restoration and aquaculture plan, which increased sanctuaries from 9 to 24 per cent of remaining oyster bars and is having a positive effect on oyster stocks, Cecil Whig reports.
"Because of this new plan, we do not agree that a complete harvest moratorium on the fishery is appropriate at this time," Griffin said.
Maryland Oystermen Association Executive Director Jim Mullin agrees.
"They're asking for a moratorium and the state already confiscated all the productive bottom in the Bay that was being worked before the sanctuaries. How can they ask for a moratorium when the state already controls the best bottom?" he stressed.
Representatives from the University of Maryland Centre for Environmental Science have long pushed for a moratorium on oystering, Mullin said, which adversely impact the region.
"Let's see how this aquaculture restoration plan plays out before anyone can consider something like this as the next step. I think that's only fair," he said.
Wilberg with UMCES noted that Maryland began working on the restoration plan before the study was completed.
"The plan certainly is an improvement over the way things were before," Wilberg said. "Having these sorts of reductions in fishing should help the population."
- Oyster industry seeks more funding for reef restoration
By Natalia Real