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Chesapeake Bay advocates say oysters need more time

On the eve of the expected release of a report on the state’s five-year-old oyster management program, Chesapeake Bay advocates are calling for the state to delay possible decisions that could open up sanctuary reefs to harvesting.

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation released its statement in advance of the expected Friday release of a report reviewing the program created in 2009.

Alison Prost, Maryland executive director for the foundation, said her organization is concerned about comments made by Department of Natural Resources Secretary Mark Belton that she said suggest an openness to harvesting those reefs.

“Oysters have been one of the real positive news stories in recent years. Governor Hogan has an opportunity to continue this progress by re-affirming the management of oysters through science,” Prost said in a statement. “We’ve invested in a sound oyster program. We must let it continue to work. Disregarding the encouraging results of our restoration work to date would not be in the best interest of the health of the Bay or the sustainability of the fishery.”

Science should dictate future policy changes and whether there is supporting data for any changes to the program, according to the foundation statement.

Maryland has 51 sanctuary reefs including the largest man-made oyster reef in the bay where harvesting the mollusks is forbidden. Two other such man-made reefs are under construction.

Nearly 150 other reefs are open to harvesting.

The large reefs could become “dynamos for growing” the oyster population and spread larvae for miles, according to the foundation.