Through Natural Resources Articles 1-102, 1-105, and 4-204, Annotated Code of Maryland, the Oyster Advisory Commission has the duty of advising the Department on matters related to oysters in the Maryland's portion of the Chesapeake and Coastal Bays, and strategies for rebuilding and managing the oyster population in these areas under the Chesapeake Bay Oyster Management Plan. In September of 2007, 21 individuals representing scientists, watermen, anglers, businessmen, economists, environmental advocates and elected officials were appointed to serve on the Commission.
The Commission's Role
As outlined in HB 133, the OAC is charged with:
providing DNR with advice on matters related to oysters; reviewing the best possible science and recommending changes to the framework and strategies for rebuilding and managing the oyster population in the Chesapeake Bay; reviewing the latest findings relevant to the Environmental Impact Statement evaluating oyster restoration alternatives; and reviewing any other scientific, economic, or cultural information relevant to oysters in the Chesapeake Bay.
The Commission was required to report, by December 31, 2007 and to the extent reasonably appropriate, to the Governor and General Assembly on:
strategies to minimize the impact of oyster disease, including the State repletion program and bar cleaning; the framework and effectiveness of the oyster sanctuary, harvest reserve, and repletion programs, and the overall management of natural oyster bars, after performing a specified cost-benefit analysis; and strategies to maximize the ecological benefits of natural oyster bars; and strategies to improve enforcement of closed oyster areas.
To that end, the OAC produced a 2007 Interim Report and a 2008 Legislative Report. The recommendations contained therein, in concert with those of the Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Oyster Restoration in the Chesapeake Bay and by the Aquaculture Coordinating Council, were instrumental in the development of the Governor's Oyster Restoration and Aquaculture Development Plan, announced in December 2009. All OAC documents are available on the Shellfish Program Publications & Reports page.
The Commission also established the following vision for the future of oysters in Maryland's Chesapeake Bay:
"Within two decades there will be a well established and expanding population of native oysters in significant portions of the potential oyster habitat of Maryland's Chesapeake Bay. These oysters will successfully reproduce and establish complex habitats and reef structures in spite of ongoing disease pressures. This large, viable population of oysters will provide a wide range of ecosystem services to the Chesapeake Bay, including important water cleaning services and the provision of habitat vital to other key Bay species. Appropriate levels of protection will exist to safeguard the condition of this population to ensure continued delivery of these ecosystem services. The protected, oyster population will have been reestablished through a major sustained investment by the government over this time period, but that investment will have then ended except for low levels of funds for oyster bar maintenance and enforcement.
During the same timeframe, a highly successful Maryland oyster industry in Chesapeake Bay will have reemerged, producing a "high quality" and "in-demand" seafood product for the consumer and resulting in the oyster industry reemerging as a major economic contributor in the Bay region. This industry will be highly efficient and utilize innovative technologies for oyster cultivation. The backbone of this industry will be the marketing of "one of finest oysters in North America". The industry will utilize a relatively modest portion of the available oyster habitat, leaving a majority of the oyster beds protected for ecological services. This industry will have evolved through privatization, thereby shifting much of the financial burden from the public to private sector. Arriving at this point will require targeted investment by the state in research and technology, as well as changes in legal and management regimes. The traditional state-private "put and take" oyster harvesting practices of the past, which have become economically unsustainable, will no longer exist. However, an opportunity for a well managed public fishery consistent with restoring the ecological function of oysters will still be available.
The vision necessary to get us where we need to proceed will require decisions based upon the best scientific information available but recognizing that even with that knowledge there is always uncertainty and that difficult public policy choices will arise. It will require a period of careful transition from current practices in oyster management and harvesting to the development of a new form of industry. Yet, based on what we know today, creating a sound vision will assure both the long term ecological and economic sustainability of the Bay's oyster resource without permanent large-scale government financial subsidies."