March 14, 2019

Senate Passes Elfreth Bill to Study Oyster Management

In a 45-2 vote of the Maryland Senate, the body passed legislation Thursday afternoon to require the Maryland Department of Natural Resources to partner with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to study a fishery management program for oysters.

The legislation (Senate Bill 830) is sponsored by Senator Sarah Elfreth (District 30 – Anne Arundel County) and specifically requires the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science to work together to develop a package of recommendations for enhancing the fishery management plan for oysters. Additionally, the bill requires the group to hold public listening sessions to better gauge stakeholder input as to how to increase oyster habitat, maintain harvest, and grow the oyster stock.

While many enjoy the seafood delicacy, the role of the oyster in the habitat of the Chesapeake Bay is often undervalued or unrealized. According to information from the Chesapeake Bay Office of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Information: “Oysters are filter feeders, consuming phytoplankton (free-swimming algae) and improving water quality while they filter their food from the water. As generations of oysters settle on top of each other and grow, they form reefs that provide structured habitat for many fish species and crabs. The Chesapeake Bay was once known for its abundance of oysters. Much of their recent decline was due to decades of overharvest and habitat destruction. It has been estimated that oysters were once able to filter all the water in the Bay in about a week. The sharp decrease in the number of oysters means that it now takes the current oyster population about a year to filter the same amount of water.”

Elfreth is the sole Senate sponsor of the Senate legislation. The bill is cross-filed in the House of Delegates as House Bill 720. House Bill 720 is sponsored by House Speaker Mike Busch (District 30 – Anne Arundel) along with both the Chair and Vice Chair of the Environment and Transportation Committee, Chairman Kumar Barve (District 17 – Montgomery County) and Vice Chairman Dana Stein (District 11 – Baltimore County) respectively.

Senate Bill 830 now moves to the House of Delegates for consideration. House Bill 720 was heard before the House Environment and Transportation Committee on February 22nd. Both Senate Bill 830 and House Bill 720 now await consideration by the House of Delegates and no further hearing information is available at this time. All legislation must successfully pass both the Maryland Senate and the Maryland House of Delegates by Sine Die on Monday, April 8th to be sent to Governor Hogan to be approved or vetoed.