DNR @ Work
Chris Judy, Shellfish Program Director

They’re not particularly attractive. And they’re decidedly short on wit and charm. "They" are native oysters, and despite a lack of winning attributes, Marylanders are passionate about them and increasingly at a loss for how to deal with their continuing decline in the waters of the Chesapeake Bay.

Enter Chris Judy, Director of DNR’s Shellfish Restoration Program, part of a team of disciplined biologists, technicians and researchers leading the charge to restore a healthy oyster population to the Chesapeake Bay.

Chris, who grew up in Hyattsville, attended the University of Maryland at College Park. It was there that he met Fred Seiling, DNR’s Shellfish Program Director. Seiling encouraged Chris to pursue a fledgling interest in oysters and the oyster industry - Chris, in turn, aspired to have Fred’s job one day.

In an attempt to get his foot in the door, Chris interviewed for a position as a DNR fisheries technician. However, after admitting he was "more interested in oysters than fish," he was referred to Bill Outten in the shellfish division, who hired him as a conservation associate in 1986.

His first year involved a lot of physical labor and old-fashioned hard work. Chris assisted biologists moving seed oysters in the spring and drove a dump truck of shucked shells for planting in summer. He also took part in the annual Fall Survey to determine oyster populations around the Bay. The valuable, hands-on experience he received would benefit him enormously in years to come.

In 1987, Chris became Outten’s assistant, where he would learn the administrative and managerial sides of DNR’s shellfish programs. Around that same time, he came under the tutelage of Roy Scott, DNR’s lead shellfish biologist. Roy worked tirelessly with watermen’s groups and shared his knowledge and experience with the young technician. While the mid-80s had been good times for the oyster program, 1986 would also mark the last year Maryland watermen harvested over 1 million bushels, as the combined effects of the diseases MSX and dermo were beginning to take their toll on the population.

Over the years, DNR’s oyster restoration and replenishment efforts have fallen, risen and fallen again. In 1996, an ambitious program to raise oysters in bags at designated sites around the Bay proved extremely difficult to manage and ultimately unsuccessful. Following a complete reorganization of the Fisheries Service, Chris was promoted to his current position as Director of the Shellfish Program. He had finally achieved his college goal.

Despite the fact that 2003 turned out to be one of the wettest years on record, allowing for a decline in disease and mortality levels, MSX and Dermo remain serious concerns. This year’s harvest is expected to be less than half of last year’s record low of 53,000 bushels.

According to Chris, only significant change will remedy the oyster situation. The population is in its worst condition ever, disease is in control, and solving that problem is the root of the solution. He is quick to point out that the shellfish program operates according to three principles: It is driven by data, welcomes knowledge from watermen and other oyster groups, and is committed to numerous public and private partnerships. And he is cheered by the fact that "this administration wants to hear the facts and make decisions based on the facts" - a "welcome approach," reopening lines of objective communication with the shellfish program.

Chris lives in Edgewater with his "beautiful wife" and daughter who, when she was four years old, informed him she wanted to be the "oyster manager" when she grew up.
If she’s anything like her father, she probably will be.

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