Advocating while using a narrative of flawed ecological facts is disingenuous. Chanting them as a mantra as fact is wrong.
It is time for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Coastal Conservancy Association and the Chesapeake Bay Program and ShoreRivers to reconsider their mantras.
Imagine for a moment that you are a navigator trusted with the job of plotting a course from point A to point B.
You make the tiniest of errors right from the very beginning. Gradually you begin to realize your error and should recalculate to avoid arriving at the wrong place.
These groups have been and are still using a set of flawed statistics to plot their “course” for saving the Bay.
The most serious of these is the oft repeated mantra that oysters filter 50 gallons of water per day. You lose sight of the realistic goal when you use such a baseline to develop protocols to brow beat stakeholders into legislative submission.
We all want a healthier Chesapeake Bay.
Every waterman I know supports better water quality and robust resources.
They are tired of regulations created due to poor grades given to the Bay and its tributaries. They are tired of rampant raw sewage episodes from Baltimore and recently threats to a tiny creek outside of Trappe endangered by weird real estate deals.
They see beach closures due to high levels of coliforms in the water and winter waste water discharges into major rivers.
Not one of these can be laid at their feet.
The importance of watermen is their intertwining relationship with local ecology.
Why go after the low-hanging fruit that are the watermen?
How about going after urban run-off, lunatic cap and trade nitrate pollution deals based on 50 gallons per day while using oyster sanctuaries, real estate developers and power companies that fund legislators.
The Bay, like an aquarium, needs clean water.
But the Bay is an open-ended estuary. It is always cycling. Changes occur constantly in water temperatures, wind, tidal ebb and flood, water quality, fresh water events, flooding and the seasonal rhythm of resources as they come and go.
It is not a system that can be micro-managed like a fish tank.
Rooted in the restoration messaging is the mantra: Oysters filter 50 gallons per day as if this occurs as a nonstop guarantee. Legislators repeat it while passing laws based on it.
Who stops to check this “fact”? Who asks the important questions about basing significant policy on an unrealistic inflated number?
Some do and they are valuable for forming sound solutions.
“(Fifty gallons per day) is about the near maximum rate at which the Eastern oyster will filter under laboratory conditions at optimum temperatures and very high-quality diets,” Matthew Gray, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory, told the Bay Journal in an article by Timothy B. Wheeler earlier this year.
Gray told the Bay Journal that in the wild, each oyster will likely only siphon between 3 and 12.5 gallons per day depending on water conditions.
“(T)hey are not the silver bullet,” Gray is quoted in the Bay Journal as saying. “There needs to be some baseline level of environmental quality in which they can function before they can have a major role in improving environmental health.”
Fifty gallons per day has become gospel and “filtering the Bay with oysters” has become a prime strategy and policy.
But the reality is sobering.
Given this more accurate valuation of the oyster’s contribution, shouldn’t we re-assess the unproven efficacy of sanctuaries to save the bay and function as filtering factories?
Wouldn’t it be better to reconsider a more active sanctuary management plan?
Marc Castelli writes from Chestertown. “The View From the Washboards” aims to offer a waterman’s opinion on today’s issues.