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New proposal would open up nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries

Oyster farmers could soon have more territory to harvest in the Chesapeake Bay.

(WBFF) -- Oyster farmers could soon have more territory to harvest in the Chesapeake Bay.

A new proposal would open up nearly 1,000 acres of oyster sanctuaries.

For the last six years a portion of Maryland's oyster population has been protected.

Allison Colden, a Maryland Fisheries scientist with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation says, "Oysters in the sanctuary areas are growing larger, producing more oysters, have larger reproductive capacity and they're surviving better than oysters outside of those areas."

After growing interest from watermen and the seafood industry the Department of Natural Resources is proposing opening about 1,000 acres of the sanctuary oyster reefs for harvest.

Colden says, "A lot of it has to do with wanting more acreage to harvest oysters. A lot of people were concerned when the sanctuaries were put in in 2010 that any acreage is being closed to harvest. But what we've seen is just this very small amount, 24%, 76% is still open to harvest. Just this small amount we've seen those populations recovering."

State Delegate Johnny Mautz says, "We've got the environmental proponents and we have the seafood industry, both want the same thing, they both want more oysters, they want a clean bay. The problem is the ideas on how to get there are still a long ways apart and there's a lot of arguing and bickering."

The state is in the middle of a scientific survey of how many oysters there are in the bay and how many can be harvested in a suitable way. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation representatives will be in a hearing on Friday asking the legislature to put a temporary halt on the proposal until 2018 when that assessment is done.

Colden says, "This Legislation would simply prevent the opening of those sanctuaries to harvest until we have the best scientific information in hand that could justify opening or not opening those areas."

The Department of Natural Resources had recommendations from several groups before making their proposal.

They say this is just the first draft and hope to find some sort of middle ground between the groups.

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