BALTIMORE (AP) - More protected sanctuaries are needed if oysters are to make a comeback in the Chesapeake Bay, two environmental groups said.
The nonprofit group Oyster Recovery Partnership (ORP) has focused too much on helping watermen and not enough on increasing the fading oyster population, the advocates said.
The partnership has received $10 million in federal funds since 2002.
“We would like to see oysters managed for their ecological value, and currently, sanctuaries are the only opportunity to do that,” said Sherman Baynard, fisheries chairman of the Maryland chapter of the Coastal Conservation Association (CCA). “If you’re going to commit public tax dollars, you need to focus your money and your activities on restoration.”
Brad Heavner, director of Environment Maryland, agreed.
“We need to design a program so it actually expands the number of oysters in the Bay,” Mr. Heavner said. “The best way to do that is to expand sanctuaries where oysters can’t be harvested.”
The Bay’s oysters were nearly wiped out by over-harvesting and disease. The supply is at record lows today.
The Baltimore Sun reported last week that ORP has planted nearly a billion hatchery-raised oysters since 2000. But less than a third have been put in protected sanctuaries. Most have been planted in places where watermen can harvest and sell them.
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation issued a statement praising the partnership’s oyster planting.
Ann Swanson, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, which advises Maryland and other states on Bay policy, agreed with Environment Maryland and the CCA about putting more oysters in sanctuaries.
Miss Swanson said she hopes the issues raised in the Sun article about the partnership’s spending do not result in less public money for oyster projects.
“The concerns raised here should not discourage federal support of oyster recovery,” Miss Swanson said. “It should re-emphasize our need to properly target and strategically invest and make every penny matter.”
ORP Chairman Torrey C. Brown defended the organization’s work in an e-mail this week.
“Maryland’s watermen contribute to the state’s economy in numerous ways, including oyster harvesting,” Dr. Brown wrote. “To deny them is to deny the many Maryland businesses that depend on our oysters and deny the thousands of tourists who visit our state in part due to the lore of our famous oysters.”