News from the DNR Office of Communications

DNR, ORP & Watermen Rehabilitate Hundreds Of Acres Of Oyster Habitat

Annapolis, Md. (April 6, 2011) — The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and The Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) have once again united with watermen to work on oyster bar rehabilitation. The program is a part of Governor Martin O’Malley’s plan to help mitigate the economic impact of regulations enacted in 2008 to help rebuild the blue crab fishery, while also helping to restore the Chesapeake Bay.

“Through the Watermen Work Program we are providing green job opportunities to working Maryland watermen who were impacted by management actions put in place to turn around the blue crab population,” said Governor O’Malley. “I’d like to thank Senator Barbara Mikulski, our congressional delegation and members of the Maryland General Assembly for providing a means to continue this program for the third consecutive year.”

The program utilizes the skills, experience and equipment of watermen to increase the amount of viable oyster bar habitat in the Bay. The rehabilitated areas will create oyster shell habitat for a natural spat set and/or hatchery seed plantings in both sanctuaries and public shellfish fishery areas. The program also provides watermen with income for helping with oyster restoration.

More than 750 Maryland watermen will restore 23 oyster bars over the next four weeks across parts of the Chesapeake Bay and will reclaim more than 1,000 acres of buried oyster shell.. The Department will oversee the program to ensure the activity is done sustainably and that any collected oysters are returned to the water to continue providing ecological services (i.e. water filtration and reef habitat) and serve as broodstock for the coming spawning season.

“The Chesapeake Bay is part of who we are as Marylanders – it is part of our heritage and part of our culture – and it’s our greatest natural resource,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski, Chairwoman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science that funds the Blue Crab Fishery Disaster Fund. “I promised to stand up for watermen as they face a potential disaster to their way of life, and promises made are promises kept. I will continue to look for opportunities to help these men and women maintain their way of life on the Chesapeake Bay, while providing income and stability for Maryland families.”

A number of the oyster bars slated for rehabilitation are located within new sanctuary areas under Governor O’Malley’s Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan. These areas include Harris Creek, Eastern Bay, and the Little Choptank, Nanticoke and Manokin Rivers. DNR put the plan into place last year, which increased Maryland’s network of oyster sanctuaries from 9 percent to 24 percent of remaining quality habitat; increased areas open to leasing for oyster aquaculture; and maintains 76 percent of the Bay’s remaining quality oyster habitat for a more targeted, sustainable and scientifically managed public oyster fishery.

Watermen must have paid the 2011 annual oyster harvester surcharge to participate in the program. The captain and crewman cannot have any significant natural resource violations since 2008. The daily rate for captains is $500 with a guarantee of nine days work. A single crew member will receive $150 per day of work.

Governor O’Malley requested that the U.S. Department of Commerce declare the Chesapeake Bay blue crab fishery a federal disaster in 2008 as the crab population fell to historic lows. Governor O’Malley launched the oyster bar rehabilitation program in November of that year, with the goal of restoring more than 1,000 acres of historically productive oyster bottom, while employing more than 500 watermen. Thanks to Senator Mikulski’s advocacy and tenacity, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration gave the State a $15 million grant in 2009 to assist Maryland’s commercial fishing industry and DNR in recovery efforts. More than 850 Maryland watermen have rehabilitated more than 2,200 acres of oyster bar habitat through the Watermen Work Program since it started three years ago.

In 2010, the results of the winter dredge survey showed the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crab population at its highest level since 1997 with a 60 percent increase over the previous year.

   April 6, 2011

Contact: Josh Davidsburg
410-260-8002 office I 410-507-7526 cell

The Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, is the state agency responsible for providing natural and living resource-related services to citizens and visitors. DNR manages more than 461,000 acres of public lands and 17,000 miles of waterways, along with Maryland's forests, fisheries, and wildlife for maximum environmental, economic and quality of life benefits. A national leader in land conservation, DNR-managed parks and natural, historic, and cultural resources attract 12 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