Managed Oyster Reserves To Open
CAMBRIDGE — Maryland watermen will harvest, by hand tong and diving, University of Maryland Environmental Science (UMCES) hatchery produced disease free oysters Saturday, October 30 from three managed oyster reserve sites: Emory Hollow and Blunts Bar in the Chester River, and Bolingbroke Sands in the Choptank.
The managed oyster reserve program is a cooperative effort among scientists, regulators and watermen in which designated oyster bars are planted with hatchery seed and restricted from harvest until at lease half of the oysters reach 4 inches in size (Maryland’s legal size limit is 3 inches). The managedoyster reserve program, which targets areas where survival is greatest, allows oysters to grow and thrive as filter feeders, and then allows harvest before disease mortality becomes too high.
Managed reserves are an experimental middle ground between sanctuaries, which are permanently closed to harvest, and public bars, which remain open throughout the season. The oysters for this special harvest were planted in 2001.
This inaugural harvest will occur at dawn on Saturday October 30th in the Chester and Choptank Rivers. Boats will be available to take press and interested public representatives to observe the harvest and will leave docks from the Harris Crab house at Kent Narrows and from the Cambridge Hyatt Regency beginning at 7 a.m. for both locations.
The managed oyster reserve program is a cooperative effort, administered by the Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) with support from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Maryland Watermen’s Association (MWA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, University of Maryland Center (UMCES,) MDA-SMP, Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Chesapeake Bay Trust (CBT), and others.
The Oyster Recovery Partnership is a coalition of organizations, institutions, businesses and individuals dedicated to helping restore the health of the Chesapeake Bay by restoring the Bay's oyster population through the rehabilitation of historically productive oyster bars using hatchery disease-free oysters produced at the UMCES Horn Point Lab.
ORP chairman Dale Wright notes “The Partnership is proud to have been able to create an atmosphere where watermen and environmentalists can join talents to create these combination sanctuary/harvest oyster beds.”
DNR Secretary C. Ronald Franks also commended the collaborative effort: “In these times of severely depressed oyster resources, it is commendable and encouraging that a group such as the Oyster Recovery Partnership has stepped forward to try and help the oyster industry and the Bay's ecosystem through establishment of these reserves. We enjoy working with organizations like ORP that put the health of the Bay paramount in their efforts.”
Watermen have been active participants throughout the managed oyster reserve process.
Dorchester County waterman Ben Parks, who has helped to clean bars and monitor the reserves, thinks the plantings are proving to be “really positive.” Parks said, “The work that is being done here has impressed me. We started with 20 acres and we are now up to 100.”
According to MWA President Larry Simns, “This is an experiment that seems to be a step in the right direction. Success means we have the tools to help bring back native oysters in rivers like the Chester and Choptank. This couldn’t have been done without the support of Senator Mikulski and the funds she created for this, as well as the cooperative efforts among all the oyster partners.”
“NOAA is proud to have funded these particular efforts, on the Chester and Choptank Rivers, as part of the larger goal of native oyster restoration,” said Lowell Bahner, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office Director. “We began funding this collaboration in 1999, along with our partners, look forward to building on these successes.”
(DIRECTIONS TO HARRIS: Traveling Route 50 East, take Exit 42 Kent Narrows East. Follow signs for Harris Crab House. Exit 42 is 5 miles from the Bay Bridge)
(DIRECTIONS TO HYATT: From the Bay Bridge, travel approximately 40 miles to Cambridge. Continue through Cambridge to intersection of Church Creek Rd. Wal-Mart on right, and turn left into the resort entrance on Heron Blvd.)
MANAGED OYSTER RESERVE FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Question: What is a managed oyster reserve?
Answer: A managed oyster reserve is a site where oyster spat are planted and grown specifically for the purpose of maximizing the economic value of the oysters for watermen. This is accomplished by delaying harvest beyond the usual 3-inch legal size and producing a larger oyster that commands a higher price. The goal is to produce an abundance of oysters 4 inches and greater. Reserves are closed to harvest until a suitable abundance of large oysters exists, which may take up to 5 years under low salinity conditions (slower growth). Reserve openings are focused during times of peak demand, such as around holidays, to further enhance their market value. Reserves are not opened during the entire oyster season, as are regular public bars. Disease impacts will alter the management plan for the reserves. If oysters begin dying from disease then the reserve will be opened prior to the 4-inch target in order to obtain a harvest before the oysters are lost.
Managed oyster reserves are an experimental middle ground between sanctuaries, which prohibit any harvesting and public bars, which remain open throughout the season.
Q: Where are the sites?
A: There are four major managed oyster reserves in Maryland that are well stocked with hatchery seed: Emory Hollow and Blunts in the Chester River, Bolingbroke Sands in the Choptank River, and Broad Neck in the Patuxent River. The first three sites are opening for limited harvest in 2004. Broad Neck requires another year for the oysters to grow and will remain closed. The seed oysters were produced at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science hatchery and were disease-free when planted. There are other minor reserves in Maryland that have not been heavily stocked with spat and they are not the subject of upcoming openings.
Q: What are the rules and regulations governing harvesting from managed oyster reserve sites?
Q: Given that the native oyster has been ravaged by disease throughout most of the Bay, why aren’t these oysters facing the same mortality?
- The managed oyster reserve site openings are limited to Oct. 30 and Nov. 13 from sunrise until noon, but other dates will be considered after the initial openings are evaluated.
- Site specific requirements and sizes:
- Emory Hollow Oyster Reserve (13 acres, hand tong only)
- Blunt Oyster Reserve (28 acres, hand tong and diver only)
- Bolingbroke Sand Oyster Reserve (20 acres, hand tong only)
- There is a 10-bushel daily limit per license holder not to exceed 40 bushels per boat (oyster surcharge fee must be paid for each harvester).
- 4-inch minimum cull size; no greater than 5% tolerance for undersized oysters as currently is in force in the fishery.
- Only the legal gear for the area may be used.
- Catch must be held in containers
- Catch must be checked with a check-in boat that will be on site to monitor the bushels harvested and hours worked and other necessary data.
- Buoys will mark the open areas as well as the closed areas. If the buoys are still on location on the open areas after the designated harvest times, the area is not still open.
- Saturday oyster harvesting is illegal. No other oyster harvesting is permitted outside these open reserve areas.
A: There are two reasons why the reserve oysters are surviving well: site selection and fortunate environmental conditions. The managed oyster reserve program targets the lower mortality regions of the Bay to encourage survival of the seed. This has been the standard strategy for many other oyster projects involving seed oysters. Another reason for good survival has been the last two years of rainfall. The heavy rains reduced Bay salinity and this slowed down disease mortality in the oyster reserve areas. If the last two years had been dry, then mortality levels would be much higher now and many oysters would be lost. A condition of oyster reserve management is that harvest can occur at 3 inches instead of waiting until 4 inches if disease is a factor. In the future, it may be.
Q: Who’s responsible for the managed oyster reserve program?
A: In general, the state has jurisdiction of management of the Bay’s bottoms, such as oyster bars. Maryland’s managed oyster reserve program is administered by DNR under regulatory authority to establish and manage reserve sites. Implementation of the reserve program is a cooperative effort among many partners who survey sites, plant shells to prepare the sites, produce hatchery oysters, plant the oysters in the reserves, and who meet to plan and decide the specifics of harvesting the reserves and marketing the product. The following are the cooperating groups in reserve management: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Trust, DNR, Maryland Department of Agriculture, Maryland Watermen’s Association, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oyster Recovery Partnership, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and others. ORP administers the hatchery program for the production and planting of the hatchery seed and they have lead the marketing effort, promoting the higher value of the 4-inch oysters as well as the success of the oyster reserve sites.
Q: How does the managed oyster reserve program relate to Maryland’s other efforts with oysters?
A: The managed oyster reserve program is one part of a three-part effort for the native oyster. Maryland’s native oyster efforts are centered on sanctuaries, reserves, and open harvest areas. Sanctuaries are areas where no harvest is allowed. Open harvest areas allow harvest throughout the entire oyster season. Managed oyster reserves allow harvest under limited conditions. All three are designed to increase oyster populations upon the specific sites that are selected for the projects. Within these three areas hundreds of acres of habitat have been improved and hundreds of millions of seed oysters have been planted to boost stocks, either for harvest or for ecological value. It is well known that the reserve program is not able to restore oysters Bay-wide (they are simply sites designed to improve the management of current stocks). Yet, the overall goal of the Bay partners is to restore oysters to the Bay as a self-sustaining abundant population, but this is not occurring in spite of many efforts that are directed to that goal. DNR is looking at alternatives to restoring the native oyster, as well as researching other species of oysters for the possible introduction into the Bay. For more information, visit the DNR web site at http://www.dnr.state.md.us/dnrnews/infocus/non-native_oyster.asp
For more information on the Oyster Recovery Partnership restoration program: visit www.oysterrecovery.org
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to Maryland citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 435,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, as well as Maryland's wildlife and fishery species for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, the department manages natural, historic and cultural resources that attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority.
The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to Maryland citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 435,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, as well as Maryland's wildlife and fishery species for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, the department manages natural, historic and cultural resources that attract 11 million visitors annually. DNR is the lead agency in Maryland's effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay, the state's number one environmental priority. Learn more at www.dnr.maryland.gov