Decision on 'Asian' oysters in bay delayed once again
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Environmental officials are once again delaying the decision to bring "Asian" oysters into the Chesapeake Bay.
Scientists now expect to issue a report on the nonnative species of oyster in May, a full four years after a study started on the pros and cons of that oyster - Crassostrea ariakensis. It is the fourth time the report has been delayed.
When Maryland officials announced the study, they intended to have the report done in 2005.
"Perhaps we were overly optimistic or unrealistic in the time frame," said Mike Slattery, an assistant secretary of natural resources. "But we always believed it was more important to do it well and thoroughly than do it quickly."
Since 2003, officials from Maryland, Virginia and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been working together - largely at the urging of Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. - to see if the oyster could supplement the flagging population of the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica.Oysters are filter feeders that have the potential to improve water quality. As such, they've been the subject of scores of restoration projects.
But those efforts haven't brought the bay oyster back yet, which is why some have turned to the nonnative oyster as the possible solution. Mr. Ehrlich was so sold on ariakensis, that he hoped to complete the study and get the oysters in bay waters in 2005.
Scientists have expressed reservations about ariakensis, however, saying other nonnative species, such as grass-gobbling mute swans and marsh-destroying nutria, have wreaked havoc on the bay's ecosystem.
The environmental impact statement on the oyster plan evaluates a range of options for both the native oyster and the nonnative oyster.
Mr. Slattery said the report's postponement is due to a delay in obtaining information about how oyster larvae travel based on currents, water temperature, salinity and other factors. He said stricter requirements for peer review of the report also contributed to the delay.
"We wanted data from Virginia so it would be a more reliable modeling effort," Mr. Slattery said. "It took us longer than we anticipated to get that data."
More than 40 projects are focused on ariakensis with the goal of providing information for the environmental impact statement. Some of the research projects include comparing the effects of disease on different oysters, determining how baby oysters decide where to attach and investigating how pollutants build up in the oysters.
There also have been studies focused on the potential economic and cultural impact of oysters, but they've already been completed.
Bill Goldsborough, a senior scientist with the nonprofit Chesapeake Bay Foundation, has been tracking the oyster studies and said he isn't sure delaying the report's deadline will allow for enough research. The National Academy of Sciences, a panel that advises the federal government on research, suggested five to seven years' worth of studies.
"We agree with the states that science should be the determining factor of the EIS," Mr. Goldsborough said. "If the supporting science called for by the National Academy of Sciences is available in May 2007, then that will be an appropriate deadline."
But he cautioned the underlying problems of the Chesapeake that caused the native oyster decline - pollution, disease and overharvesting - shouldn't be ignored.
"If measurable progress was made in reducing nitrogen pollution and the dead zone, then the native oyster would thrive in the bay and the quick fix of a nonnative oyster introduction into the bay would be unnecessary," he said.
--Mr. Slattery said. "It took us longer than we anticipated to get that data."
----That seems ovious, report was due in 2005--Who Cares , right !!--The grant money would stop if the report was ready -
-No! Im wrong again , the report WAS made -NOT Ready-Oh Well[shy]