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June 16, 2006:
The EIS Executive Committee, comprised of Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary C. Ronald Franks, former Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr., and Norfolk District United States Army Corps of Engineers, Commander, Colonel Yvonne J. Prettyman-Beck, announced in December 2005 the establishment of a June 2006 checkpoint for assessing the information gathered and analyses completed to determine the status of the draft EIS. The Executive Committee, in its ongoing efforts to keep the public informed, announced today the establishment of a May 2007 target delivery date for making the draft EIS available for public review.
The purpose of the EIS is to identify a strategy to significantly increase the population of oysters throughout the Chesapeake Bay in an effort to restore their ecological and economic values, as well as preserve their importance to the Bay’s cultural heritage.
“While it is critical that the EIS process be firmly grounded in science, with all decisions being based upon peer-reviewed information, it is equally important that the EIS be completed in a timely fashion,” says Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources L. Preston Bryant, Jr.
Secretary Bryant also stated, “The EIS Executive Committee must focus the remainder of the EIS process on completion of decision-critical research to assure that we meet a May 2007 timeline for release of a draft EIS. Additional supplementary research that may extend beyond May 2007 can be used to better refine our oyster management strategies in the future, without comprising our deadline to complete the draft EIS.”
More than 40 nonnative oyster research projects have been funded since the EIS was initiated to address the recommendations of the National Research Council and Chesapeake Bay Program’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee. The Executive Committee indicated that a significant amount of this nonnative oyster research is now available and undergoing peer review. Additional research, funded primarily by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is ongoing and will be reviewed for incorporation into the EIS process as it becomes available.
The Executive Committee highlighted several major accomplishments made since December 2005. First, a peer review plan to comply with new federal peer review requirements was finalized and approved. Second, results from the oyster larvae transport model for the native oyster were provided on June 5th. The output from this model will be incorporated into the demographic model for the native oyster, which will provide population projections for the various native oyster restoration strategies being evaluated. Third, a framework for assessing the native and nonnative oyster aquaculture alternatives has been developed; this assessment is currently underway. Fourth, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s Shellfish Transport Committee, consisting of shellfish technical representatives from Maine to Florida, convened their first meeting to provide the agencies preparing the EIS with a broader coastwide perspective of the potential impacts beyond the Chesapeake Bay.
“We have embarked in the most comprehensive evaluation of native oyster restoration strategies ever performed in the Chesapeake Bay, and possibly of a potential introduction of a nonnative species in the world,” says Secretary Franks. “This is a critical evaluation, and we remain committed to strong collaboration and for the process to be guided by science.”
Multiple factors have attributed to the modified target delivery date for a draft EIS. Obtaining results from the larvae transport model have taken longer than originally projected. In addition, compliance with new federal peer review regulations will require additional time for peer reviewing the scientific information that supports the EIS. The approved Oyster EIS peer review plan outlines a comprehensive approach for reviewing the research, modeling and assessments that are supporting the EIS. The plan also acknowledges that it is the responsibility of the Oyster Advisory Panel to review the sufficiency of data and assessments in the draft EIS prior to public release.
The Executive Committee plans to establish regular checkpoints in order to keep the public apprised of the progress of the EIS. The next checkpoint will be offered in December 2006. “The lead agencies will continue to work collaboratively with the cooperating federal agencies and continue to use public outreach meetings and reports to inform the public on work done to support the EIS as results become available,” says Colonel Prettyman-Beck. The cooperating agencies consist of the Environmental Protection Agency, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The Executive Committee has also announced the enhancement of a website to keep the scientific community, stakeholders, and the public informed of the progress of the status of the EIS as well as scientific findings as they become available. To access this site, visit http://www.dnr.state.md.us/dnrnews/infocus/oysters.asp
NOAA’s Quarterly Review reports
Oyster Harvesting in Virginia