Strategizing a more sustainable oyster future

In an effort to better manage the oyster populations throughout the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, oyster industry stakeholders congregated for their fourth workgroup meeting at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science Horn Point Lab on March 24 – 25. It was a very productive two days!

The fifth workgroup meeting is scheduled for May 20 – 21, followed by the sixth and final workgroup meeting in mid-July.

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Thanks again everyone. We look forward to seeing you again in May!

For updates on the OysterFutures project, visit OysterFutures.wordpress.com or the OysterFutures Facebook page. 

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A nice summary of where we’re at

OysterFutures project brings industry, managers together to discuss future

Scientists from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science are part of a unique project designed to strategize new ways to manage an old industry. With the fate of the Chesapeake Bay’s oyster population in question, stakeholders ranging from watermen to environmentalists hope to look past any differences to reach a common goal—enhance the shellfish resource and fishery.

This is the OysterFutures project, a five-year undertaking funded by the National Science Foundation that kicked off earlier this year. Its goal is to reach a consensus on strategies for oyster fishing practices and restoration in the Choptank and Little Choptank rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

Diminishing numbers of the shellfish has sparked some heated debates in recent years between the people who make a living off oysters and the people looking to restore their populations.

The  project brings together a diverse group of stakeholders from the oyster industry, environmental groups, and government agencies to make recommendations on ways to improve the oyster resource while integrating commercial and restoration interests.

Oysters are important to Maryland’s economy and cultural heritage, and for a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay.

Elizabeth North, an associate professor with UMCES’ Horn Point Laboratory, said it’s kind of like drafting a business plan that ensures the future is bright both economically and environmentally speaking.

“Hopefully with a better business plan, we will have a more profitable and a long-term sustainable industry that is based on rehabilitation and improvement of the oyster resource over time,” she said.

North is leading a group of scientists who are serving as consultants to the stakeholder group, collecting data, developing projection models, and observing the process.

Biologist Mike Wilberg of the UMCES’ Chesapeake Biological Laboratory has been working on a computer model that will be unveiled at the next OysterFutures meeting.

Using simulations and projections from the scientists, stakeholders will examine how various regulations or changes in restoration practices may have different outcomes for oyster population, harvests, and water quality. They will weigh the difference between longer or shorter seasons, having more or different sanctuaries, or changing gear types.

“We’re using the model to bring together all the science about oysters and how they are likely to respond,” Wilberg said. “Building the model in collaboration with the group lets us all learn from each other, which is a very important part of the OysterFutures process.”

The group has already held meetings and a symposium, and will meet a few more times to explore strategies and solutions before presenting its findings to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in June 2017.

Whether the state will adopt any of the group’s recommendations isn’t clear, North said, but the process has already been valuable because of the people involved.

She described the discussions at recent meetings through OysterFutures as both strong and respectful, adding that this process of collaboration and compromise could be the key to creating more sustainable regulations, which in turn could lead to a healthier resource and industry.

“There’s a lot more common ground than I think the different groups are aware of,” North said. “It’s also uncomfortable because I keep seeing how many misconceptions that I’ve had, which are just going by the wayside.”

North expects the next meeting of stakeholders, scheduled Nov. 5 and 6, will be a strong indicator of the progress of those initial discussions.

“We really haven’t gotten to a point where people are trying to rate something, selecting one idea over another, which will start early next year, so that’s when we’ll really see whether this process works,” she said.

For updates on the OysterFutures project, visit oysterfutures.wordpress.com or the OysterFutures Facebook page.

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Third stakeholder workgroup meeting a success

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Our third stakeholder workgroup meeting was held at the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory on November 5-6. It was another successful meeting with productive and constructive discussions. The fourth workgroup meeting is scheduled for early 2017.

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Apr 30 ALL

Our second OysterFutures workgroup meeting, held at Horn Point Laboratory on April 30–May 1, 2016, was another successful meeting! Due to the crabbing season that is well underway, the next workgroup meeting will be September 10–11, 2016.

This will be followed by an Oyster Symposium, which will be held on Sunday October 23 at the Van Lennep Auditorium at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum in St Michaels. This symposium will be open to the public, so please watch this space for more details!

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Watermen, citizens, and government stakeholders meet to discuss the future of oysters in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers

CAMBRIDGE, MD (March 23, 2016)—A collaborative project to develop consensus on recommendations for oyster fishing practices and restoration in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers started off on the right foot at a kick-off meeting February 26-27 at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory in Cambridge, Maryland.

The new undertaking, OysterFutures, is a five-year project funded by the National Science Foundation with a goal of bringing a diverse group of stakeholders together from the oyster industry, environmental groups, and government agencies to make recommendations on ways to improve the oyster resource while integrating commercial and restoration interests.

“The goal of the OysterFutures project is to develop recommendations for oyster policies and management that incorporate science and local knowledge and meet the needs of industry, citizen, and government stakeholders,” said associate professor Elizabeth North of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Horn Point Laboratory.

North is leading a group of scientists who will serve as consultants to the stakeholder group, collecting data, developing projection models, and observing the process.

At the first meeting, stakeholders discussed initial ideas for improving the oyster resource in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Professional facilitators guided the group. Many ideas were brought forward and will be discussed at future meetings, including clearer delineation of fishing areas, enhancements in enforcement, changes in public fishing regulations, and improvements in marketing and education.

The majority of the OysterFutures Workgroup are from the oyster industry in Choptank and Little Choptank region, including six watermen, two aquaculturalists, and one seafood buyer. The four citizen group representatives are from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Coastal Conservation Association Maryland, The Nature Conservancy, and the Phillips Wharf Environmental Center.  Representatives from the Oyster Recovery Partnership, State (Maryland Department of Natural Resources) and federal agencies (NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office) are also participating.

The overall objective of the OysterFutures program is to test a new way to include stakeholders in natural resource management to help improve the effectiveness and responsiveness of management, as well as the sustainability of the natural resource.

“We’re focusing on oysters because of their importance to Maryland’s economy, cultural heritage, and a clean and healthy Chesapeake Bay, and because there is conflict over how to best to restore the oyster resource,” says scientific team member and associate professor Michael Wilberg of the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science’s Chesapeake Biological Laboratory.

Members of the research team presented information on current regulations and restoration activities in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers, as well as information on the collaborative model that the scientists and stakeholders will build over the next year. This model will be designed by stakeholders and researchers to forecast how changes in regulations might affect oysters, oyster harvests, and the ecological benefits of oysters, and will be used to help evaluate different strategies for improving the oyster resource.

“Our goal is to integrate on-the-water knowledge and scientific understanding to help the stakeholders find their best path forward,” said Wilberg.

The collaborative model will be developed and evaluated by the Workgroup over its next three meetings and used during a fourth meeting when the stakeholders deliberate and reach agreement on what to recommend for new oyster management strategies, regulations, and restoration policies.

Comments from the meeting include:

“I’m glad everybody is getting along. It’s looking good.”
—Greg Kemp, Vice President of the Talbot County Watermen’s Association

“The group covered a lot of ground in the first meeting and it was good to see that everyone was committed to an open and honest dialog.”
—Ward Slacum of Oyster Recovery Partnership

“There was more agreement among diverse stakeholders than I expected, and I’m optimistic that a lot of new ideas and valuable advice on future oyster management will come from the OysterFutures group.”
—David Sikorski, The Chairman of Government Relations for CCA Maryland

“[The meeting] exceeded expectations.”
—Joe Fehrer of The Nature Conservancy

The stakeholder group asked the scientific research team to convene a symposium in the fall of 2016 to bring in experts from other states with public oyster fisheries and large-scale aquaculture programs to learn what other folks are doing and get some ideas about what might work better here in Maryland.

Following the symposium and the series of four meetings over the next 14 months, the OysterFutures Workgroup will submit their consensus recommendations to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources in June 2017.

“Our near-term goal is to provide sound recommendations for enhancing the oyster industry and oyster resource that will work for all major stakeholders in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers,” said North. “The ultimate goal of the project is to help establish a stakeholder engagement process that can work across the nation to enhance sustainability of natural resources by maximizing agreement among diverse stakeholders and those entrusted with fisheries management.”

The project is supported with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Coastal Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program. In addition to the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, research team members are from Florida State University’s FCRC Consensus Center and Virginia Institute of Marine Science.

For more information on the OysterFutures project, visit https://oysterfutures.wordpress.com/ andwww.facebook.com/oysterfutures.

Photos by Jane Hawkey and Ben Fertig/Integration & Application Network.

UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND CENTER FOR ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE
For 90 years, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science has led the way toward better management of Maryland’s natural resources and the protection and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay. From a network of laboratories located across the state, UMCES scientists provide sound advice to help state and national leaders manage the environment, and prepare future scientists to meet the global challenges of the 21st century. www.umces.edu
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First meeting

Our first meeting, held at Horn Point Laboratory on February 26–27, 2016, was a resounding success! The second workgroup meeting is scheduled for April 30–May 1, 2016.

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