County opposes oyster restrictions

CAMBRIDGE — Watermen asked for and received on Feb. 19 the Dorchester County Council’s opposition to new proposals for restrictions on oyster harvesting. Bobby Whaples of the Dorchester County Seafood Harvesters’ Association told members of the council that his group is fighting many bills under consideration in Annapolis.

“There are 27 bills that are against our way of life, against everything we do,” Mr. Whaples said.
House Bill 298 is receiving particular attention from industry representatives. A summary of the bill says it supports “establishing a network of oyster sanctuaries in the five tributaries identified by the Department of Natural Resources for large-scale restoration pursuant to the 2014 Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement; codifying the boundaries of certain oyster sanctuaries; prohibiting a person from catching oysters in or removing oysters from a certain oyster sanctuary, subject to a certain exception.”

Watermen see the goalposts being moved farther away as the state continues work to restore the Bay. “We’re in the ninth year of a five-year oyster preservation program,” Mr. Whaples said.

The professional fishermen also question the wisdom of removing much of the remaining productive bottom from harvesting, and dumping artificial material such as concrete rubble on which spat – very young oysters – can attach and grow. “We want natural shells on there,” Mr. Whaples said.

He told council members that the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is leading the effort to restrict seafood harvesters by influencing the state’s political leaders. “It’s gotten to big, too powerful,” Mr. Whaples said.

Attorney Chip MacLeod also represents the harvesters. “We’ve been over in Annapolis fighting this fight,” he said. “There is a concerted effort in this session to clamp down on the oyster industry.”

“There’s a bullseye on the industry,” Mr. MacLeod said, adding that some environmental groups “want to thin the herd of commercial fishermen. They’re doing a good job of it.”

The council voted 5-0 to send a letter to the Legislature opposing House Bill 298.

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