CAMBRIDGE, Md.- This spring, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is planning to put fossilized oyster shells on the bottom of the Little Choptank in Dorchester County, but watermen and local lawmakers have concerns.
Wednesday night, those groups gathered at Cambridge South Dorchester High School to protest against the project in a hearing. They are concerned that by putting down a thick layer of rock and shell, the existing oysters and crabs in the area will be buried, and the jagged material would make the area unharvestable.
The shells first arrived four months ago from Florida, and have already been spread in Harris Creek. The Department of Natural Resources believes the layer of hard shell will provide a strong base where oysters can naturally grow. But the catch is, not many watermen share that belief.
"It should be more of a natural process, not bringing in shells from 1,400 miles away or using granite which isn't even found on the bottom anyway," said Scott Todd, President of the Dorchester County Seafood Harvesters Association.
Todd believes if the project begins this month as scheduled, it could have a devastating effect on the fishery in the Little Choptank.
"The crabs that are there, we've had a cold winter, they're probably still a little sluggish and if this happens in the next couple of weeks, it's gonna cover up what crabs are laying there." said Todd.
Another group frustrated by the prospect is the Dorchester County Council, who have sent letters to the DNR protesting the project. Council president Jay Newcomb says they are ready to fight it if the project becomes too close to a reality.
"Council has discussed injunction but we'll wait and see what comes out of this public hearing tonight." said Newcomb.
At Wednesday night's hearing, some watermen proposed to instead move the project to the north side of James Island, an area not often fished, eliminating much of the debate.
As of Wednesday, planting in the Little Choptank is set to begin within the month.