St. Mary’s Extends Public Comment Period for Oyster Aquaculture Moratorium

Bay Journal article (2018-09-12) reported that the St. Mary’s Board of County Commissioners have extended a public comment period for a proposed ordinance that would create an 18-month moratorium on using commercial docks for oyster aquaculture leases. The new comment period runs until December 4. The article noted that the decision came after an August 28 public hearing in which more people spoke against the proposed moratorium than in support.

Supporters of the moratorium cited concerns that oyster aquaculture can pose navigational hazards, disrupt water recreational and hunting activities, and decrease property values. Opponents argued that the State considers such concerns prior to issuing an oyster aquaculture lease and that aquaculture can generate jobs and improve water quality. The article noted that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has issued 97 oyster leases and considering 44 more applications for in St. Mary’s County. From the article:

Mike Hewitt, another St. Mary’s County commissioner, said he believed that the county had gotten the state’s attention with its proposed moratorium. He expressed sympathy for waterfront property owners, who he said were being unfairly accused of opposing leases because they don’t want to see aquaculture activity from their shore. …

Hewitt and Randy Guy, the president of the county commissioners, both called for the formation of a local focus group to hash out their issues. If any local agreement can be reached, they said, perhaps it could form the basis of changes in state law or policy to give waterfront property owners and local officials more notice and more say in how and where oyster farming occurs.

In response, DNR has convened an informal workgroup that includes local officials to address the concerns raised and also speed up the licensing process.