Eastern shore lawmakers battle bill that could hurt commercial watermen

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – “There aren’t many bills that come along here that end industries as we know it. This happens to be one, “said Delegate Chris Adams (R- District 37B).

Adams says it’s simply a waiting game at this point. To see if lawmakers will pass a piece of legislation that would make five oyster sanctuaries off-limits to watermen.

“It ends what I believe is quintessential to the Eastern shore.”

House Bill 298, introduced by Delegate Michale Busch, would turn Harris Creek, the
Little Choptank River, the Tred Avon River, the St. Mary’s River, and the Manokin River into permanent oyster sanctuaries. Which means watermen couldn’t catch or harvest in these areas.

“They are some of the best known areas for the industry so it’s a point of a lot of contention,” said Delegate Johnny Mautz (R-District 37B).

Local watermen we spoke with say they’re outraged by the proposal.

“The problem is they’re picking on the weakest link in the chain and that is the commercial harvester,” said Watermen Association President Robert T. Brown.

Supporters of the bill say that it would continue efforts to restore five of the tributaries back to their original levels of oysters. But others argue that there has to be another way to go about this. Without hurting those who depend on these resources the most.

“In Virginia, they have sanctuaries, but they rotate those sanctuaries. So you can harvest them. There is a proper way to manage oysters in the sanctuary, unfortunately most of us feel a permanent sanctuary is not the way to go,” Mautz explained.

As for how lawmakers will proceed if this bill moves forward?

“We’re going to have some issues to deal with as far as managing those sanctuaries and addressing the new barriers for our industry,” said Mautz.


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