The Maryland Department of Natural Resources has issued season limits for the 2019-2020 oyster harvesting season. Effective immediately, the 2019-20 season will begin October 1, 2019 with no commercial harvesting on Wednesdays, and temporary closures to wild harvesting in certain areas where there is a low abundance of oysters, low natural spat set or where spat-on-shell plantings are being protected, including some areas north of the Gov. William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial Bay Bridge. Additionally, the recreational harvest will be limited to three days a week (Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays only) with no harvesting after noon and a 50 percent reduction in harvest limits. Details are issued by public notice and are available on the department’s website under “Shellfish Closures/Openings.”
Department scientists expect that these measures will result in approximately a net 26 percent reduction in oyster harvest. The approach was developed using modeling of historic data, findings of the 2018 Oyster Stock Assessment, and input from stakeholders and was scoped in a public meeting with the Oyster Advisory Commission, the Sport Fish Advisory Commission and the Tidal Fish Advisory Commission. They will be combined with other measures outlined in Maryland’s new Oyster Management Plan — the first revision in a decade — with a goal of increasing oyster populations and garnering a sustainable oyster fishery in 8-10 years.
“The department’s Oyster Management Plan establishes a robust and science-driven framework for a sustainable fishery, which is an ecological and economic priority for the state,” Maryland Natural Resources Secretary Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio said. “With an 8-10 year timeframe set as our goal, it is important that we begin implementation as soon as possible. If we combine sustainable fishing practices with other measures such as strategic investment, habitat restoration and sanctuaries, the result will be real, long-term solutions for the resource.”
Oyster population fluctuations are caused by multiple factors, including nutrient pollution, disease, harvest pressure, and freshwater flows. Heavy rains the past two years have introduced large amounts of fresh water and greatly reduced salinity in portions of the bay, impacting oyster habitats and reproduction.