Oyster Shell Committees restore Maryland tributaries

In 2014, Maryland and Virginia vowed to restore 20 tributaries by 2025. Because of funding constraints and the magnitude of the restoration efforts it was changed to 10 tributaries. Maryland initially picked five (5) tributaries: Harris Creek, Tred Avon, Little Choptank, St. Mary’s River and Manokin. Manokin was switched for a short while to Breton Bay but was switched back to Manokin. All of these tributaries are presently either fully or partially sanctuaries. To determine if they were successful or not, certain criteria were set by a Goal Implementation Team (GIT): 15 oysters per square meter was the minimum threshold with 50 oysters per square meter the target over at least 30 percent of the oyster bar. There would also have to be at least 2 year classes of oysters on the bar. After somewhere between $26-32 million spent to restore oyster bottom, Harris Creek was determined to be Maryland’s first restored tributary.

My question is: Is Broad Creek a “Restored Tributary”? We believe it is. Does it fit the criteria (50 oysters per square meter) that was set forth by a GIT Team of scientists? Since 2010, the number of oysters in Broad Creek has steadily increased. The Talbot County Oyster Shell Committee, which is the group that has been replacing shell and seed oysters in Talbot County for the last 61 years, has observed first-hand many more oysters in Broad Creek since 2010. This past year we saw one of the best spat sets we have seen in more than 40 years, with one oyster bar in Broad Creek (Deep Neck) getting more than 1,800 spats per bushel (to put this in perspective, the 35-year average for the bay is about 40 spats per bushel for Deep Neck it is 117). In light of this, it would be extremely important to have the GIT scientists document the amount of oysters per square meter in Broad Creek, too. Other oyster bars replenished yearly by the Oyster Shell Committees should also be quantified as a “Restored Tributary” as well and measured by GIT to reach the original goal of 20 restored tributaries by 2025.

Not only could we reach the 20 restored tributary goal, Maryland could adopt an alternative management strategy to restore tributaries in a more cost effective way, saving millions in taxpayer money. For example, from 2010-2019 Talbot County watermen spent a little over $1 million dollars in shells to restore the reef in Broad Creek. As watermen, we understand that the best way to get more oysters in the bay is to return shells to the native oyster bars. From 2010 to 2019, watermen harvested 394,531 bushels of oysters from Broad Creek, with a dockside value of $15,478,770. That produced over 400,000 bushels of shell for not only public bar restoration but also shells for aquaculture and sanctuary restoration. Why not adopt an alternative management practice to restore tributaries that not only cost less to restore oyster bars, and unlike sanctuaries, also boosts the economy by producing jobs, food, and much needed shell for restoration, sanctuaries and aquaculture?

Jeff Harrison

President TWA

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