Dorchester watermen took concerns about fossil oyster shell being placed around oyster bars in the Little Choptank River to a non-violent protest recently, as a dozen workboats surrounded a barge and crane being used for the work.
Work resumed the following day, as fossil oyster shell quarried from Florida was again being placed in the river.
Watermen fear the fossilized shell is mud- and clay-like and too heavy and the timing of the work could mean burial of crabs that have yet to come out of hibernation.
More than 2,000 tons of fossilized oyster shell have been placed without objection in Harris Creek, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said. The barge recently moved to the Little Choptank and began placing fossil shell there, according to Tom O’Connell, DNR’s director of fisheries resources.
O’Connell said the project in the Little Choptank is working on a permit obtained in 2008.
Following the temporary shutdown of the operation in the Little Choptank, Scott Todd, president of the Dorchester Seafood Harvesters Association, said he had been told the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would review the permit allowing for the placement of fossil shell in the Little Choptank. Todd organized the protest.
O’Connell said he was unaware of any review.
“We believe that what we are doing is covered by our permit. We inspect every load,” he said of the fossil shell being sent to Harris Creek and the Little Choptank (and, as the project expands, to the Tred Avon).
O’Connell said the fossil shell is inspected by Maryland Environmental Service inspectors. “We have conditions in our permit that are being followed.”
Bob Newberry, of the Harvesters Land and Sea Coalition, said the material DNR is placing on the Little Choptank’s bottom is “not what they (DNR) say it is.”
Newberry said he had the fossilized shell tested at an independent, federally licensed laboratory and testing facility and it was “laden with clay” and other fine materials that would make it difficult for spat to grow.
Newberry said the watermen and their quality control engineer want to meet with DNR’s quality control engineer and discuss concerns about the material.
Meanwhile, the Dorchester County Council previously agreed to join the watermen’s association in seeking a court injunction to stop the fossil shell placement.
Sen. Richard Colburn has also sent a letter to Maryland DNR Secretary Joe Gill, asking that plans for the Little Choptank Oyster Restoration project be reconsidered.
We think it is imperative for the DNR to continue to address watermen’s concerns about the fossil oyster shell.
Discussion, cooperation and disclosure are key to determining the best course of action for restoring the oyster population of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, an effort that both parties should support in order to clean up the Bay and allow the watermen to maintain their livelihood.