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Friday, March 21, 2014

Sen. Colburn Updates on Oyster Issues

ANNAPOLIS – State Senator Richard F. Colburn (R-Eastern Shore) announced today after meeting with Department of Natural Resources Secretary Joe Gill, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has agreed to work with the County Oyster Committees to purchase and plant 60,000 bushels of fresh shell that the Department has already offered to replenish public oyster fishing bars. The Department has also agreed to purchase an additional 20,000 bushels of fresh shell for a pilot project to collect additional data in collaboration with interested stakeholders. The study will consist of DNR using the additional 20,000 bushels of fresh shell to replenish oyster bars that have experienced high harvest pressure in recent years and will work with interested stakeholders to examine the cost effectiveness of using fresh shell to enhance the natural production of oysters as compared to using fresh shell for hatchery on spat production. This study will continue for three years (through the 2016/17 oyster fishing season.)

Senator Colburn stated, “Commercial watermen and I had hoped for the full amount of the originally requested 200,000 bushels given the fact that it is estimated 400,000 bushels of oysters have been harvested this season. The 200,000 bushels requested would have replaced half of the depleted shell. During my meeting with the Secretary I had hoped for a compromise and requested that at least 100,000 bushels of fresh shell be made available. Including the 60,000 bushels already available this leaves a deficit of 20,000 bushels, however, I will take the 20,000 bushels offered as a small victory and a step in the right direction. I also believe the pilot program will be helpful in assisting the Department and industry in determining whether or not nature can adequately produce good spat sets. While I praise the work that Don “Mutt” Meritt does at Horn Point, we have to realize the Horn Point Hatchery alone cannot replenish the Bay’s oyster population. If nothing else, my introduction of SB 1111-Natural Resources - Fresh Oyster Shells - Purchase by County Oyster Committees has brought about an awareness by the General Assembly members of our lack of sufficient supply of oyster shell in Maryland.”

Also, during the meeting with the Secretary, I again requested that the 2014 oyster harvest season be extended by two weeks. In response to this the Department has denied the request based and offered the following as to the reason why-

The Bay’s oyster resource is depleted, estimated at less than 1% of historic levels.

Industry harvest reports indicate only ten days of interrupted oyster harvest this season.

So far, this year’s harvest is 9% above the harvest for all of last year. This makes the 2013-2014 season the best oyster season in the last 14 years. Once the season ends and all harvest reports are in, current projections indicate that this could be the best season in 25 years or more.

Several watermen have reported that many public fishing areas are already “played out” meaning they have realized their harvest potential for this year.”

Senator Colburn stated, “I believe the Department’s figure of only 10 days loss is debatable due to the number of days this winter that loss of work days have been affected by extreme wind and snow conditions, not to mention the icing conditions that have occurred in Maryland’s bays and waterways. I believe these have been conditions unlike any we have seen in the recent years. I feel the Department could have at least shown a good faith attempt and extended the season for the hand tongers until April 15th.”

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