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[q] Officials delay decision on putting Asian oysters into bay
By PAMELA WOOD, Staff Writer
Maryland and Virginia officials have once again delayed their decision on whether to bring nonnative, "Asian" oysters into the Chesapeake Bay.

Maryland Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks said this morning that more time is needed to make sure that enough scientific research is conducted before making a decision, and pushed the target date from January to June, at the earliest.

The delay is the third since the states launched a joint effort in 2003 to study the foreign oyster, Crassostrea ariakensis, as part of an overall evaluation of oyster restoration efforts.

"The governor made a commitment that we're going to make a decision based on science," Mr. Franks said.

But some of that science has taken longer than expected, necessitating the extension, Mr. Franks said.

"We have to do more research," he said.

Native oysters have been nearly wiped out by disease and historic overharvesting, and environmental officials have struggled to try and boost their population. Ariakensis oysters are believed to be hardier and more disease-resistant than the native oyster, Crassostrea virginica.

Oysters not only make for a desirable dish in seafood restaurants and raw bars, but they also are valued for their ability to filter impurities out of the water.

The 2004-2005 winter oyster harvest in Maryland was about 72,000 bushels. Though that far exceeded expectations, it still is a fraction of past harvests. As recently as the mid-1980s, Maryland watermen were hauling in more than 1 million bushels per season.

There has been some disagreement, however, whether bringing in a foreign oyster species will be the answer to the bay's oyster woes.

Critics have said that no matter how much research is done, there inevitably still will be many unknowns about the new oyster. They fear that ariakensis could spread disease, outcompete the native oyster, or cause other problems.

Maryland officials have stressed that introducing the ariakensis oyster is just one of many options being considered for the new oyster restoration plan. And they have repeated that any decision will be made based solely on science.

Dr. Donald Meritt, who is conducting two of the oyster experiments, said the extra time will be useful.

"I think it's a good thing. Most of the scientific community thinks more time will help. I have no problem with it," said Dr. Meritt, a researcher at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science's Horn Point Lab near Cambridge.

He is studying how many eggs are released by female ariakensis oysters when they spawn. And he's also seeing what happens when the two species try to cross-breed.

Dr. Meritt said his initial studies were hampered by having only a small number of ariakensis oysters available. Now he has more oysters and more time to repeat his experiments on a larger scale.

"We've done a few spawns and now we will do more," he said.

Bill Goldsborough, a senior scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, doubts enough research will be completed by June.

The bay foundation, headquartered in Bay Ridge, has urged that officials take an abundance of caution and weigh the risks carefully before making a decision on ariakensis.

"The decision simply must be based on good science," he said.

Mr. Franks said that officials will revisit the oyster study process in June, and possibly release a draft "environmental impact statement" at that time.

"That's our plan, but it's not poured in concrete and steel," Mr. Franks said. He left open the possibility that in June there could be yet another extension if more time is needed.

"We're not going to rush it," he said.

If the decision is made to introduce ariakensis oysters to the bay, there is no firm timeline for implementation. Mr. Franks said the November gubernatorial election has no bearing on oyster restoration projects.

The decision to delay the final study was made jointly by Mr. Franks, Virginia Natural Resources Secretary W. Tayloe Murphy Jr., Col. Yvonne Prettyman-Beck of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other officials involved in the project

Published December 14, 2005, The Capital, Annapolis, Md.

[/q]--------------------------------[q]"We're not going to rush it," he said.

If the decision is made to introduce ariakensis oysters to the bay, there is no firm timeline for implementation. Mr. Franks said the November gubernatorial election has no bearing on oyster restoration projects.

-------Should it have a bearing?---We're not going to rush it----That's obvious----When you start a study W/O enough subjects to study---Even a child has a full box of crayons, when given a coloring book ----OH WELL---
[sad][sad]
 
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