Monday, August 08, 2005

ENV: Listing Eastern Oysters

A DC Birding Blog has news of the proposed listing of Eastern Oysters in Chesapeake Bay. This species is also being watched carefully in the Gulf of Mexico. Texas has banned the import of Pacific (and various other varietal forms of) Oysters for fear that accidental of purposeful introduction into Gulf bay waters could devastate native populations.


Dissension on the Chesapeake
Industry Opposes Effort to Put Eastern Oysters on Endangered Species List
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post Staff Writer, Thursday, August 4, 2005

A Maryland environmentalist alarmed by the steady decline of the Chesapeake Bay's native oyster population is trying to get it on the federal Endangered Species list -- a proposal that has sparked an uproar of opposition in the oyster industry from Maine to Louisiana.

Wolf-Dieter Busch, an environmental consultant, believes bay pollution and ineffective regulations could prove fatal to the eastern oyster. Ravaged in the past by overfishing, and now undermined by disease, 99 percent of the eastern oyster population in the bay has disappeared since the late 19th century, according to federal fisheries statistics.

In January, Busch petitioned the National Marine Fisheries Service to list the oyster on the Endangered Species list, despite the existence of millions of oysters living in the bay and thriving oyster populations elsewhere along the East Coast and in the Gulf states.

"It was the only thing I could see that would get people's attention," Busch said.

It certainly has. If the petition succeeds, those in the oyster industry say it could stop all harvesting of the species and render obsolete a large segment of the national seafood economy.

Richard Pelz, chief executive of the Circle C oyster ranch on St. Jerome Creek in St. Mary's County in Southern Maryland, is one who believes an endangered designation would destroy his business and also hamper attempts at oyster-recovery in the bay. Oysters behave as a natural filter for polluted waters, and Pelz markets his floating oyster reefs as a way for shoreline homeowners to clean up the bay while growing a delicacy. He estimates the brood line of oysters he's created, named the Lineback, alone is worth $1.5 million.

"They'd have to come up with that if they shut me down," Pelz said. "There will be lawsuits if they do this, I can guarantee you. Because I'll have nothing else to do."

The petition has made it past the first hurdle, a 90-day review by the National Marine Fisheries Service to assess whether there was a valid concern over the future of the species. The answer was yes, and the decision set off a more comprehensive investigation by a 12-member team of experts. This biological review team begins meeting Monday and Tuesday in Annapolis, and a final decision will be made by Jan. 11 by the head of the fisheries service, which is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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