Perdue: More Oysters, Not Less Fertilizer, Are Solution For Bay Cleanup

Speaking to the Baltimore Sun editorial board on Tuesday, Jim Perdue said chickens are not the greatest threat to bay water quality, but another creature – oysters – might be the solution.

Jim Perdue, Chairman of the Salisbury-based chicken enterprise that bears his family’s name, says chickens aren’t the biggest problem facing the Chesapeake Bay. Perdue prefers to focus on what he considers the best solution for cleaning up the Chesapeake Bay: more oysters.

From The Baltimore Sun,

Only 8 percent of the water that flows into the bay washes over Eastern Shore land where farmers spread chicken manure as fertilizer, he said.

So while agriculture is blamed as the biggest detriment to the estuary’s health, that responsibility is overstated, he told the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board in a meeting Tuesday.

The focus of addressing bay pollution should be on rebuilding the oyster population, the Perdue Farms chairman said. Perdue was named chairman of the Oyster Recovery Partnership, a nonprofit focused on helping the bivalves multiply in the bay, this spring.

Oysters serve as natural filters for estuaries like the Chesapeake, but the bay’s oyster population has fallen by 99 percent over the past 150 years.

“Until you put a filter back in the bay, you’ll never clear up the problem,” Perdue said.

Chicken manure, along with failing wastewater treatment plants and septic systems, are chief sources of pollution in the bay. The nitrogen and phosphorus they contain fertilizes algae blooms that cloud waters and create dead zones with little or no oxygen.

Perdue argued that data shows Eastern Shore farming is not as big a problem for the bay as many believe. Instead, he pointed to increased waterfront development and pollutants and sediment that wash into the bay from its western shore and Susquehanna headwaters.

According to Maryland’s BayStat program, agriculture is the biggest source of nitrogen and phosphorus statewide, and on the Eastern Shore.

One water quality advocate said Perdue’s comments seemed an attempt to deflect attention from the poultry industry and its contributions to bay pollution.

“It’s all a problem; it’s just that the contributions from ag are a bigger problem than everything else,” said Kathy Phillips, the Assateague Coastkeeper and an advocate for Eastern Shore water quality.

“You can’t keep deflecting attention away from ag,” she said. “It needs to do more because it’s a bigger contributor.”

Efforts to rebuild the oyster population, to benefit both water quality and the seafood industry, are meanwhile advancing.

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