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Two Takes on the Bay

The Case for Oyster Sanctuaries

As you’ll see down the page in Your Say, reader Fred Millhiser continues the discussion opened by my Editor’s Letter of June 22 — “Gov. Hogan: Champion of the Chesapeake? With the title comes accountability”.
    I quoted the governor as sharing watermen’s conviction that “rotational harvesting” is good for oyster sanctuaries as well as their own interest.
    On the other side, Millhiser recommended a recent commentary in Bay Journal, independently published with grant funding to inform the public about issues and events that affect Chesapeake Bay. The commentary — “Abandoning Sanctuaries Means Giving up on Oyster Restoration” — was written by Bill Eichbaum, chair of the Maryland Oyster Advisory Commission from 2007 to 2011.
    If you’ve watched Bay restoration and oyster repopulation as I have these 25 years, you know both Bay Journal and Eichbaum present ideas worth considering.
    So this week, with Bay Journal’s permission, I share Eichbaum’s case for keeping sanctuaries closed.

    An animal, he writes, is likely to have the maximum capability to develop genetically based resistance to disease if certain conditions are met. First, it must be given the most hospitable environment possible so that individuals in the population thrive physically. For the oyster, this means providing opportunities for the re-establishment of the historic reef structures. This can only be done in the long-term absence of harvesting.
    Second, the animals must be allowed to live out their full life expectancy, especially in the presence of disease. Animals that live long lives in the face of disease are likely to do so as a function of genetic and other factors disposing them to resistance. And they pass those traits on to future generations.
    Sanctuaries need to be distributed throughout the Bay. This distribution will assure that as weather and other environmental conditions change and impose transient stress on particular sanctuaries, others not subject to that stress can help carry the whole system through such periods, especially in regard to the reproductive processes. Also, the distribution of sanctuaries across the Bay means that larval dispersal from sanctuaries will benefit adjacent non-sanctuary oyster habitat.
    Finally, sanctuaries need to be large, for enforcement purposes. Only large areas — an entire water body, such as Harris Creek or the Little Choptank — are on a scale that allows efficient law enforcement. In a 10-acre sanctuary, a scofflaw can easily slip across the line without being spotted. That’s impossible where an entire creek or river is the sanctuary.
    The Maryland Oyster Sanctuary Plan envisages only covering 25 percent of good oyster habitat. That leaves 75 percent for traditional oyster practices. The sanctuaries are the only logical way to assure native oysters are eventually able to resist disease and again play an important role in the ecological life of the Bay. They will also significantly improve the probable success of thriving oyster populations outside of sanctuaries. To abandon this vision for the contribution of sanctuaries in Maryland is to abandon the native oyster.

Did It Rain on Your Parade?    
    Bad enough that July Fourth’s rain fell on the Annapolis Independence Day Parade, drenching city plans to conclude the patriotic holiday with fireworks.
    Worse still, in the big picture, is the torrent of sediment such storms discharge into our waterways.
    You might have seen the morning-after evidence just after reading in July 5’s Washington Post that the Conowingo Dam is close — much closer than we hoped — to reaching its full sediment containment potential.    
    In the Conowingo silt dam, just as in oyster sanctuaries, we share a collective stake.
    Sedimentation of our waterways is a personal problem for each one of us, for it begins in our own front and back yards, our own roofs and driveways.
    We stand on higher ground in solving our collective problems when we take care of the problems that begin at home. What am I doing to stop my share of the stormwater flood? What are you doing?

Sandra Olivetti Martin
Editor and publisher
email editor@bayweekly.com, www.sandraolivettimartin.com