February 24th, 2016

By: David Sikorski, Executive Director

Volunteers from CCA Maryland’s Government Relations Committee worked the halls of Annapolis this week to share the message of sound, science based fisheries management.

SB 554 – Natural Resources – Gill Nets – Mesh Size

On Tuesday, Larry Jennings, a long time CCA Maryland volunteer spoke in opposition of Senate Bill 0554, a bill that aims to increase the allowable stretched size of a gill net used in the Chesapeake Bay to 7.5″.   The regulatory authority to manage gill nets for striped bass already exists for the Department of Natural Resources(DNR). Existing Maryland code already allows for a 5-7″ net, but many watermen are concerned that a net material they have will stretch to much, and put them at risk of being out of compliance with regulations.

Because DNR has the regulatory authority to manage commercial fishing gear already, we felt this bill was unnecessary and might take away flexibility for changes that industry members might want to make quickly at a later date, to change gear or other management measures

When a fishery is managed under a fisheries management that aims to maintain healthy stock levels, and prevent over fishing is used to manage a stock, DNR’s fisheries managers should be left to work through the ASMFC process, and/or state regulatory process to manage the fish.

The written testimony CCA Maryland submitted can be read here.

HB 924 – Natural Resources – Oyster Management – Prohibited Actions

Today, Rick Elyar, CCA Maryland’s Habitat Committee Chairman, Summer Miles, a Central Region Chapter member, and Westminster High School student, and Bryan Shumaker, the STEM coordinator for Carroll County Public Schools, attended the committee hearing for HB 924.     The trio shared their views on the importance of conservation, and why oysters should be managed based on science, and that more reefs are needed to properly support the ecological health of the Chesapeake and it’s many rivers.

Dr. Jim McVey, also a CCA Maryland member, provided the committee a great deal of information regarding disease resistant stocks of oysters.  Dr. McVey managed the NOAA Sea Grant program for a number of years that supported a great deal of oyster disease research.

A large panel of other groups testified in support of the bill, and I provided a reminder to the committee that our public natural resources belong to all of us, that we have a privilege to harvest them,  and that they should be managed in a fair and equitable fashion.   Oysters are the foundation of the entire bay ecosystem, and act as the home for many important estuarine species, and should be managed by sound science.  When questioned whether the legislature should be mandating oyster rules by Del. Jay Jacobs, I explained that we have a trust in DNR, and trust in science, but do have concerns that oysters are over fished, and short term gain seems to be the hope of many, instead of the long term benefit for Bay.

This is not a new problem, and is not an issue that follows any partisan political party line.  Last session, the legislature required DNR perform a stock assessment in order to determine sustainable harvest rates.  More than one Legislator noted that HB924 provides a reinforcement of the last years Sustainable Oyster Population and Fishery Act of 2016(SB 937- Bill Text)     It should also be noted that, if passed,  HB 924 would not limit DNR’s ability to manage the public fishery in public shellfish areas this fall, or limit the Oyster Advisory Commission’s ability to identify the next two sanctuary tributaries.

HB 924 requires that sanctuaries not be reduced or altered until the report required by SB 937 is complete.     Many proponents explained that oyster sanctuaries should be closed permanently in order to maximize the growth potential, but to also support an increase in the overall biomass of disease resistant oysters in multiple areas.

A bipartisan poll was reported this afternoon by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and can be found by clicking here.  The result?  A majority Marylander’s believe oyster sanctuaries should be remain protected.

DNR Secretary Belton, and Fisheries Director Dave Blazer, fielded questions from the committee after sharing DNR’s opposition of the bill.

Numerous opponents testified after DNR, and shared a number of reasons they oppose the bill.

CCA Maryland’s written testimony can be found here

Firing of DNR Blue Crab Manager

We are deeply concerned by the recent termination of Brenda Davis, a 28 year veteran of Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.  Experienced managers like Brenda are responsible for instituting important measures to ensure the growth and sustainability of Maryland’s crab fishery.  We will continue to seek more information on this issue, and look forward to discussing this issue with the many crabbers that have reached out to CCA Maryland seeking support.

Bay Journal Article

Washington Post Article

We remind everyone, that while CCA Maryland works hard on your behalf, we urge you to provide your input on these matters as well.  The general assembly website is a great place to start for contact information, and always feel free to drop us a line if you’d like more information on any pending legislation.  General Assembly Website