Comptroller Peter Franchot wants to use aquaculture to clean the Bay and in the process eliminate the public fishery. He should take time to learn about oysters and the public fishery, instead of depending on siloed information provided by parties with no interest in Maryland’s oyster industry.

For instance, oysters don’t filter the oft quoted 50 gallons per day, but only about 3.0 to 12.5 per most recent science. This means far more oysters will be needed than the naive have imagined.

Also, oyster farmers are increasingly leaning toward sterile triploids because they grow faster to market size. Faster growth means faster turnover with less chance of premarket mortality and an increased profit margin.

No argument there, but triploids don’t reproduce and can’t add new oysters to the Bay to help cleanse it.

Aquaculture isn’t the ascendant oyster business. The public fishery still outproduces aquaculture. Watermen are very smart when looking at things that can make them more money more efficiently. Why is it that they have not wholeheartedly embraced aquaculture? Recently oyster farmers could not sell their product because it grew to 4 inches, too large for their market, pandemic or not. The Pew Foundation bought the “un-salable” oysters, bailing out aquaculture, and planted them on sanctuaries. Yet, no funds came to the public fishery suffering the same loss of market due to COVID.

Planting is the only way to help generate new oysters.

Mortality rates are very high. Up to 50% can die in the first few months and then over 90% by the third or fourth year. The point is that all oysters die. How many dead oysters are littering the sanctuaries? When an oyster dies the shell gapes and the meats decay, returning to the waters the very pollutants it filtered. It is a cycle of removing and returning nutrient pollution.

The most effective way to actually remove the pollutants is to remove the oyster before it dies. Statistics indicate the public fishery is the most effective at this; the fishery harvest always outpaces aquaculture harvest.

Franchot cloaks his alliance with the aquaculture coordinating council under a veneer of eco-enviro speak. He claims that oyster farming is good for the Bay. Partially true, mind you but a very small part, given the small percentage of oyster farming that makes up the state’s oyster industry.

Where does he get his information? Why won’t he exercise due diligence by having his staff cross-check it with up-to-date science, harvest reports and commercial license stats?

Apparently, he has no interest in fact checking as he keeps beating this weird drum of doing away with the public oyster fishery and restructuring the other fisheries. From whom is he more interested in getting support? Franchot Pro-Bay? He is the swing vote on the Board of Public Works approving the toll road/expansion of the Beltway and the Cabin John (American Legion) Bridge. Contributions to his gubernatorial campaign are from the toll road construction companies, unions, etc.

How does he reconcile creating more impervious surfaces and runoff problems with saving the Bay? He says he can help to save the Bay by closing the public oyster fishery and going all out for aquaculture, while accepting fiscal and political support from the highway construction lobby. Why should this be another story about the messiness of intentions? Why do we always forget that mess when we look back?

Mr. Franchot, for the sake of the thousands of Marylanders connected to the public and private oyster industries, please educate yourself before next November.

Marc Castelli writes from Chestertown. “The View From the Washboards” aims to offer a waterman’s opinion on today’s issues.

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