Waterkeepers Call for Restoration of Oyster Recovery Efforts

Oyster Recovery a Priority for Waterkeepers

Local Riverkeeper programs at Midshore Riverkeeper Conservancy and Chester River Association (now part of ShoreRivers) have been strong advocates for native oyster restoration and have led oyster restoration projects for many years. In 2015, Waterkeepers Chesapeake became aware of proposed regulations to remove protections to oysters reserves in several waterways. We alerted the local Waterkeepers of these proposed regulations, provided recommendations on preparing comments, and coordinated legal representation from Chesapeake Legal Alliance, resulting in a hold on the regulations.

Unfortunately, just before Christmas, Governor Hogan, through the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR), abruptly halted ongoing oyster recovery efforts in Harris Creek, the Little Choptank River and Tred Avon River. This action came after watermen met with Maryland Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, the state’s natural resources secretary asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold up a federally funded reef building project about to begin in the Tred Avon River near St. Michaels.

The work, already funded through state and federal sources, was slated for completion in February 2016. The work was conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers in partnership with Maryland DNR, NOAA and the Oyster Recovery Partnership.

Waterkeepers Chesapeake and several other groups called on Governor Hogan to restore the oyster recovery efforts on the Eastern Shore. Unfortunately, the Army Corps moved its project to Virginia.

An action alert was sent out to demand a reversal because:

  • Halting oyster recovery is premature. The Oyster Recovery Program progress report will not be officially delivered until July 1, 2016. We know that water quality metrics are improving with the oyster program in place. It should stay.
  • It is a waste of funding. The program is already paid for in the Maryland state budget. The federal dollars for the program’s continuation have already been allocated. It is a misuse of taxpayer funds to pay for a program, then not see it through to completion.
  • Oyster populations are beginning to rebound. Oysters are at 1 percent of historic levels in the Chesapeake Bay. Programs like this are helping this keystone species to begin recovery. We know that oysters clean the water — they are nature’s little pollution-removers. The recovery effort has slowly rebuilt their depleted population. Why would we stop?

(Photo credit: Chester River Association, Marylanders Grow Oysters program)