Delegate Johnny Mautz describes watermen’s issues

MD-county meeting buy boat 2x-051215

Special to The Dorchester Banner/ Jane Hawkey
A Chesapeake Bay buy boat used to tend to the oyster fleets working the beds in the Bay. They bought harvested oysters and “ran” them to distant markets and rail centers in Norfolk, VA, Crisfield, Baltimore, and Washington, DC as well as local shucking houses and canneries.

CAMBRIDGE — District 37 Delegate Johnny Mautz updated the Dorchester County Council at its May 5 meeting about issues of vital importance to area watermen that were discussed in the recent legislative session.

He described three letters he wrote to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The first concerned the proposed 25 percent reduction of the striped bass quota. Mr. Mautz explained that the “Chesapeake Bay and the coastal stocks were combined and the resolution of that was to come up with a slot between 36-40” in the trophy season where you can’t keep them. Everyone I’ve spoken to has said the reduction has been well over 25 percent. I understand it’s been over 70 percent.”

Delegate Mautz said on a recent fishing trip he caught “10 keepers and threw 5 back. They’re throwing back more fish than they’re keeping.” He asked the DNR what scientific model they used to determine the proposed regulation; what scientific model they use to collect information; who made the decision; why the stocks were combined; and if the catch is being over-reduced will that stock be returned to a future harvest this summer or next season. He expects the entire shore delegation to sign the letter.

A second letter asked if the DNR plans to open the contracts for the shell replenishment program. He said that five boats are exclusively bidding for the contracts to place the shell on oyster bed sanctuaries. Mr. Mautz explained that “buy boats are traditionally used to spread shell. They’re run and owned by watermen and are a very unique boat. The only way they can sustain staying in the fleet is to be part of this program.”

He opposes using non-watermen contractors to spread the shell because they are “mostly big dirt moving contractors with no experience in oyster beds. They may know how to move shell but to me it’s a step in the wrong direction.” He wants to know what restrictions bidders face to ensure “they know what they’re doing,” and how their experience or lack thereof will impact the local fishing fleet.

A third letter does not directly affect Dorchester County, he noted, but has in the past. His questions concern DNR’s habitat restoration program in the Tred Avon River about which he is learning details. In Harris Creek the Army Corps of Engineers and the DNR primarily used material from Havre de Grace. Mr. Mautz is uncertain about the shells’ origin but said it is “totally different shell” than that used by the DNR in the Little Choptank River.

According to Chesapeake Bay News, “the shell comes from processing plants in the mid-Atlantic region and is permitted to be imported and placed in the river. The rock is quarried in Havre de Grace.” Last year’s heated debate focused on controversial Florida shells “dumped” by the DNR in the Little Choptank. Watermen were opposed to the foreign shell based on size, cleanliness, and potentially adverse consequences to the beds.

Dredges and barge boats are currently in the Tred Avon with a 40’ crane and scoop that is ready to dump shell. When the area was being dredged, Delegate Mautz said that one dredge pulled up “five bushels of live oysters.” The Army Corps purchased the shell and is directing the project. This letter asks what materials were used on which project, (Harris Creek and the Tred Avon), where was the work done, who did the work, the cost, and how is the work being assessed. He added that the Talbot County Waterman Association is “watching closely” and promised to share the results of his queries with the Dorchester Council.

Council President Ricky Travers said “if the Corps would do what they’re supposed to do and dredge our channels and not get into something they don’t know about it would be a whole lot better.” He said dredging is being done in high boat traffic channels like the Baltimore Harbor. It is “very frustrating for people like us just because we don’t have large numbers of huge boats. We’ve got a lot of channels that need to be dredged for the watermen’s livelihood.”

Delegate Mautz suggested that a market-based restoration effort would free-up some funds for channel dredging projects. He added that the legislators will also work with DNR, concerned legislators, and stakeholders to amend restoration plans by allowing fishing in oyster sanctuaries.

Mr. Mautz called the session a “positive” one that closed “the gap between spending and debt. And, Governor Hogan “did a good job protecting the Eastern Shore to make sure money is distributed evenly throughout the state.”

Susan Bautz is a freelance writer for the Dorchester Banner.

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