A Maryland Department of Natural Resources stock assessment found in November that the number of market-size bivalves last season was half of what it had been 15 years earlier, and that the shellfish were being overfished in roughly half of the state’s waters. The assessment had been ordered by the General Assembly in 2017 after the DNR moved to open some state oyster sanctuaries to supplement a faltering commercial harvest. Lawmakers blocked the DNR move until the assessment was complete.
Maryland and Virginia have each pledged to restore oyster populations and habitat in five tributaries. In Maryland, reef restoration is complete in Harris Creek and under way in the Little Choptank and Tred Avon rivers. The DNR has preliminarily identified the St. Mary’s and Manokin rivers as its final two restoration sites. Environmentalists worry that the state may reopen them to harvest at some point and hope to codify their status as sanctuaries under the law.
Groups like the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are asking legislators to come up with a timeline and process for the oyster fishery management plan that the DNR is charged with developing and expects to complete in 2019. Conservationists say they want to be sure that the public has a chance to participate, and that all management options are considered.