- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 19, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — A proposal in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to designate the eastern oyster as ‘threatened’ or ‘endangered’ would likely halt or limit harvesting of the shellfish, fisheries experts say.

A petition calling on the federal government to recognize the oyster, or Crassostrea Virginia, as threatened or endangered was filed in January by Dieter Busch, a consultant who once worked for the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission.

The agency has determined the petition warrants a full review by a panel of private-, federal- and state-fisheries experts, which will take up to nine months to complete the process and allows for public comments and hearings.

Results of the review are expected in January 2006. The review panel would then make a recommendation to the agency’s regional administrator.

The agency’s assistant administrator for fisheries has the final say on whether Virginia would be listed as threatened or endangered.

Unless biologists can find there are different subspecies in different areas, a federal designation would apply to all U.S. habitats for the oyster, said the agency’s Marta Nammack.

The eastern oyster lives in North American estuaries, from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Yucatan Peninsula, according to the agency.

?Right now it’s one species,? Miss Nammack said.

The Endangered Species Act allows biologists to look at population groups of vertebrates — such as a bird or fish found in different areas — and list one as threatened or endangered but find that another group is in good shape.

They cannot do the same for animals without backbones.

?Since oysters are invertebrates, we have to list the entire species or subspecies rangewide,? Miss Nammack said.

In the Chesapeake Bay, the eastern oyster is the native oyster and has been depleted by disease and overharvesting.

Maryland’s fishery managers and experts have been struggling for years to reverse the decline, and progress has been made in localized areas of certain rivers and inlets, and on reserve reefs, where harvest has been limited.

U.S. Atlantic Coast landings of eastern oysters have decreased from a high of 160.6 million pounds in 1890, to 2.4 million pounds in 2003, according to the agency.

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