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Oysters on the Slippery Slope?

That’s to be feared when work stops on an oyster reef

In a Bay of 700,000 acres, why make a big deal about eight acres?
    Could it be because those eight acres are the slippery slope on which restoration of Crassostrea virginica could lose its footing?
    With Chesapeake Country under blizzard watch, you can understand why the slippery slope is a dreaded place.
    Less understandable is what’s going on at the muddy bottom of the Eastern Shore’s Tred Avon River.
    More precisely, not going on.
    At issue is Gov. Larry Hogan’s stop-work order on building an ­oyster reef on those eight acres.
    That hole in the water on the Choptank River tributary that links Easton and Oxford is one small piece in a complex saga of oyster restoration. As sagas must, the story stretches back through many years of dramatic rises and falls of a local hero.
    The hero is our Chesapeake oyster, an inert bivalve with superpowers apparent if only you look inside its shell. The Chesapeake ecology and economy rests on a foundation of oysters.
    Our oyster’s trials and tribulations are so well known that our school children recite them.
    Snatching our hero from the jaws of doom is a multi-billion dollar rescue mission that’s spanned decades and only now seems to be working.
    Sanctuaries give our native oyster just what the name supposes they should: undisturbed places to grow where their colonies rise up like trees in an underwater forest rich with life.
    Twenty-five percent of the Bay’s traditional oystering grounds are promised to be reserved as sanctuaries, some 9,000 acres, according to the current Maryland Department of Natural Resources plan. It’s a plan that took years to fine tune, not in locked rooms where bureaucrats debate but in the public forum. It’s a plan in which we have all had our say, from citizens to watermen to scientists to waterway managers and environmental planners.
    A sanctuary isn’t made by name alone. Oysters have to be cultivated there, from the bottom up. Once the right place is found, a foundation has to be laid. Oyster shell is the bed oysters like best. Dropping shell once it’s acquired is a heavy construction project. None of it’s simple or cheap. As much of the money comes through federal and state funding, you can bet it’s made way to its destination — Harris Creek or the Tred Avon — through a policy-making maze.
    In Harris Creek — the Choptank tributary nearest to the main Bay — the sanctuary has been made: 350 acres of new reefs laid and seeded with two billion juvenile oysters at a cost of $26 million.
    On the Tred Avon, work was started in a 150-acre oyster restoration. The money — $11.5 million — was in hand and the contractors hired and ready to go.
    In so big a plan, why halt work on eight acres, unless it’s a first step on a slippery slope away from the best ­success we’ve had yet in restoring our native oyster?
    What happens on those few acres makes a big splash.
    “This largely federal project is a critical piece of and the next step in the state’s commitment to restore oyster populations in five Maryland waterways under the 2014 multi-state Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement with the federal government,” according to our two senators, Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin.
    It’s important enough that you need to know.
    Learn more in the Bay Journal article Watermen Seek, Win, Halt in Tred Avon Oyster Restoration Project: http://bit.ly/BayWeekly_Oysters.

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher; editor@bayweekly.com