- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 25, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — Asian oysters are too risky to introduce in the Chesapeake Bay to revive oyster stocks, Gov. Martin O’Malley said yesterday after a boat tour to learn about oyster-recovery efforts.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, said scientists don’t know enough yet about disease-resistant Asian oysters to safely introduce them in the Bay, where disease and over harvesting have left the native oyster population at a fraction of historical levels.

“Given the history of introducing foreign species, I’m hesitant to do that,” Mr. O’Malley said.

His predecessor, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, favored the idea of trying Asian oysters after a scientific review.

During the two-hour boat tour along the Bay, Mr. O’Malley also learned about sonar techniques used to map the Bay’s floor and hauled up a few dozen oysters using a mechanical dredge.

On Tuesday, Mr. O’Malley signed into law a bill setting stricter penalties for oyster poaching and starting a new study of the health of the Bay oyster. He conceded that more study won’t solve the problem of low oyster numbers, but he pledged to keep working to find ways to restore them.

“We know what we need to do,” he said. “It’s a matter of taking it to scale.”

A state scientist who joined the boat tour said the new study could provide a valuable yardstick for restoration efforts.

“The importance of it is going to be the analysis of efforts so far,” said Chris Judy, shellfish program director for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The governor on Tuesday signed several environmental bills, including ones that ban Bay-polluting phosphorus in dishwashing detergent and requirements for cleaner car emissions and more solar energy.

Mr. O’Malley’s efforts come amid gloomy news for the health of the Bay.

Last week, the University of Maryland gave the Bay’s health a grade of D+ for 2006, and scientists predict more low-oxygen zones to show up in the Bay this summer.

Bruce Michael, director of the DNR’s tidewater ecosystem assessment division, said times are tough but that shouldn’t discourage efforts to restore the Bay.

“It took a long time to degrade the Bay. It’ll take a long time to recover,” Mr. Michael said.

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