Watermen, Environmentalists Debate over Dredging Prehistoric Oys - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Watermen, Environmentalists Debate over Dredging Prehistoric Oyster Bar

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Credit: Maryland DNR Credit: Maryland DNR

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - It's another showdown between watermen and environmentalists - this time in Annapolis. On Tuesday, a committee of Maryland lawmakers heard testimony from both groups over dredging a prehistoric oyster bar known as Man O' War Shoal. Last year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the state permission to dredge the area on the Western Shore near the mouth of the Patapsco River. But now, an emergency bill, known as Senate Bill 145, would ensure Man O' War Shoal and its estimated 100 million bushels of oyster shells stays untouched and closed off.

Watermen like Jeff Harrison say dredging would bring as much as 5 million bushels of natural shell for baby oysters to grow on to other parts of the Chesapeake Bay.

"Natural is the way we want to go, yes," Harrison said. "If this bills passes, I mean, we're totally against it because we really need those shells. Shells are the most important substrate to the Bay right now."

But environmentalists argue differently, Alan Girard of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says dredging the area could devastate nearby fish habitat and do little to bring back oysters.

"We need to make sure these natural areas stay protected," Girard said. "It's a small amount of shell for not very great benefits when you look at the alternatives that are out there."

Girard says one alternative includes what's been done in places like Harris Creek: man-made, concrete bottom proven to help oysters grow.

But Harrison says he remains skeptical of that alternative, standing by the use of natural shell to replenish and save the Chesapeake Bay.

According to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, dredging Man O' War Shoal would cost about $27 million. Watermen, like Harrison, say it's money that would bring priceless benefits to the Bay. But environmentalists say all the money should be used in other ways that include restoring and protecting existing oyster reefs in Maryland.

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