Maryland’s 2017-2018 public oyster harvest season kicks off Oct. 2 and runs through March 31, 2018. The opening month is reserved for divers and watermen using patent and shaft tongs, as well as recreational oystering.
The recreational harvest of oysters in Maryland is open to any resident during the season. Each harvester may take up to one bushel of oysters per day as long as they are only for personal, noncommercial use.
“Oysters are ingrained in Maryland’s culture, diet and heritage,” Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton said. “Since the time of Captain John Smith and the skipjacks of yesteryear, these beloved bivalves have been intrinsically linked to the brackish bay, as well as to the state’s economy and environment. This iconic species’ management is vitally important to industry, stakeholders, our state and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.”
Last season, 1,086 licensed watermen harvested 224,609 bushels of oysters with a dockside value of about $9 million. The oyster industry provides funding to invest in its own future – oyster seed and shell plantings – through the state’s license surcharge and oyster tax revenue, as well as through funding from the Maryland Department of Transportation.
New this oyster season, the department has established the Commercial Shellfish Harvester Closure Area Information Portal. This interactive, online tool assures that harvesters have access to maps showing where leases are located as well as the corner coordinates so these areas can be avoided when harvesting oysters. More information about the portal is included in the Shellfish Closure Book that harvesters receive when purchasing their oyster authorization.
Throughout the season, the Maryland Natural Resources Police is activating its oyster enforcement plan to protect the species, aquaculture leases, public fishery areas or sanctuaries. Officers on patrol boats and along the shoreline will monitor harvest activity, conduct aerial sweeps with radar from the agency’s reacquired helicopter, Natural 1, as well as inspect seafood buyers and sellers.
The busiest portion of the oyster season will kick off Nov. 1, when harvest methods expand to include power and sail dredging in designated areas of Calvert, Dorchester, Somerset, St. Mary’s, Talbot and Wicomico counties.
Commercial watermen may work Monday through Friday from sunrise to 3 p.m. in October, and again from January through March. In November and December oysters may be harvested from sunrise to sunset. The minimum harvest size is 3 inches. The daily limit is 15 bushels per person, not to exceed 30 bushels per boat for divers and tongers. For power dredging the limit is 12 bushels per person, not to exceed 24 bushels per boat.