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Oyster harvest concerns watermen - MyEasternShoreMD: News From The Dorchester Star

Oyster harvest concerns watermen

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Posted: Monday, October 8, 2012 12:15 pm

EASTON -- With crab season wrapping up and oyster season under way as of Monday, some watermen are expressing concerns over how successful this year's season will be. 

Many mostly are concerned with the amount of area the watermen have been given to catch oysters in, which is a reduction from past years.

Larry Simns, president of the Maryland Watermen's Association, said most of the "bottom" they had to work with has been taken away and they weren't left with much, oystering in areas of Tangier Sound, parts of St. Mary's County, a few areas in the lower Chesapeake Bay and the Choptank River.

"They're not very good areas," Simns said, who added that there aren't many oysters left on the bars they're allowed to harvest.

Much of the decline of the oyster and sea life population has been credited to Dermo disease. Simns said this is specifically a problem near sewage treatment plants.

He said water pollution from sewage treatment plants spreads around diseases that wiped out many oysters, crabs and fish.

"Water quality has everything to do with reproduction," said Bunky Chance, president of the Talbot County Watermen's Association. "That's where you're going to make or break it."

Chance said to have a good oyster season, the water has to be clean first.

He said the Watermen's Association tried to save future harvest numbers throughout summer with a process called shell reclamation, where shells are taken from nonproductive oyster bars and put into productive oyster bars so they can expand and continue to prosper.

This year, spat sets, or baby oysters, have been mediocre, according to Chance, so he's remaining "cautiously optimistic" in the whole situation. He said due to their efforts, they've had a fairly good growing season, but since most of the oysters are babies, that will be good for the future and not necessarily the present.

He said the most productive oyster bottoms have been put into sanctuary, causing hardships on a lot of the watermen, as it cuts availability of the product to harvest.

Michael Naylor, shellfish program director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, said 24 percent of Maryland's oyster grounds are protected from harvest, which started in the 2010 and 2011 season. This was done to allow the oyster stock to recover, and the spat set from 2010 will start to come into market size this fall.

Naylor said there are two other contributions that limit the oyster population sediment layers and over harvesting.

He said sediment is a big problem in the Chesapeake Bay, which is settling on oyster beds in that area.

But Naylor said "a ridiculous amount of time and energy" is being put into reducing pollution, "ridiculous" being meant in a good way.

"A tremendous amount of money is being spent on a solution," he said. "It's quite a laundry list of things being done."

For Chance, oystering isn't just important because that's how he makes money, but it also is economically important to the Chesapeake Bay area as a whole.

"It's not just a job, it's our way of life," he said. "This is what we've done for generations."

Chance's statement echoed true for Naylor, who said the money from this industry directly pumps into the local economies of the Eastern Shore.

He said it is part of Maryland's heritage to be able to eat seafood fresh from the Bay, and it's a heritage he grew up on.

Currently, watermen can only go tonging for oysters. Power dredging season for oysters begins Nov. 1, which Naylor said is the predominant way people harvest oysters in the Chesapeake Bay area.

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