Oyster Environmental Impact Statement Schedule Modified by Executive Committee

ANNAPOLIS – The Oyster Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) Executive Committee announced their decision to modify the schedule for determining whether there is sufficient scientific information to release a draft EIS for public review. The EIS Executive Committee has now agreed to a June 2006 checkpoint to evaluate the status of the report.

The EIS Executive Committee, comprised of Maryland Department of Natural Resources Secretary (DNR) C. Ronald Franks, Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy, Jr., and Norfolk District Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) Colonel Yvonne Prettyman-Beck, agreed that given the vast scientific research involved, more time is needed before a draft EIS can be released.

“The magnitude of this project, the volume of research data to be analyzed, and the number of partners involved, dictates that we modify the schedule so that sound science can determine the outcome of this study,” said Secretary Franks. “We will maintain our goal to identify a strategy to restore oysters to the Chesapeake Bay in an expeditious manner; however, we will not be compromised by a rushed schedule.”

The EIS schedule modification was decided upon at a meeting in late November in Richmond by the lead agencies of Maryland, Virginia and the ACOE in collaboration with the cooperating Federal agencies—the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The modification timeline will allow for the completion of the remaining elements of the EIS, which include the predictive models for larvae transport, demographic (distribution) restoration of oysters over time and an ecological risk assessment.

The agencies involved agreed to establish the June 2006 checkpoint when they will assess the information gathered and analyses completed as they determine whether a draft EIS should be released at that time. If it is determined that critical research gaps remain, the modified target date will make it possible to more efficiently direct available funding towards addressing the critical outstanding issues.

Secretary Murphy stressed, “Virginia has always taken the position, in every element of oyster work and throughout this current process, that sound science is the backbone of the program. Our research work is vital to give us the best possible means of evaluation.”

The lead agencies will continue to use public outreach meetings and reports to inform the public on work done to support the EIS as results become available. Reports on three major topics—cultural analysis, economic analysis and results from a model that projects the ecosystem benefits (i.e., water quality improvements) of oyster restoration—have already been presented. The next meeting on model larval transport will be held in January.

At the November meeting, the EIS Executive Committee and the cooperating Federal agencies also agreed upon a decision criteria matrix that establishes the key decision factors policy makers will use to identify a preferred oyster restoration alternative or alternatives.

“I am pleased with the collaborative approach that has existed during the entire time that we have sought balance and synergy among human development and natural systems,” said Colonel Prettyman-Beck, Commander of the Norfolk District, ACOE.

The State of Maryland and the Commonwealth of Virginia, in cooperation with the ACOE, have undertaken the preparation of an EIS based upon Federal regulations. 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.

The EIS will evaluate a range of alternatives including the use of native and/or nonnative oysters. Native oyster restoration alternatives focus on increasing the scale of restoration, expanding the use of disease-resistant strains, implementing a temporary harvest moratorium and expanding aquaculture.

The nonnative oyster alternatives focus on using the Oregon strain of Crassostrea ariakensis and include a large-scale introduction program of reproducing (diploid) oysters and an expanded aquaculture program using non-breeding (triploid) oysters, including a contained on-the-bottom test currently underway.

The Oregon C. ariakensis was imported to the northwestern United States from China over 30 years ago. Non-breeding oysters of this strain have been used in field experiments under strict biosecurity measures in the Chesapeake Bay and in North Carolina since 1996 and 1999, respectively. The management and use of these oysters has been in accordance with protocols established by the International Council for the Exploration of the Seas for transferring marine organisms to new areas.

NOAA’s Quarterly Review reports can be found online at http://noaa.chesapeakebay.net/nonnativeoysterresearch.aspx.

For more information on oysters in Maryland, see http://www.dnr.state.md.us/dnrnews/infocus/oysters.asp.

For more information on oyster harvesting in Virginia, see http://mrc.virginia.gov/regulations/fr720.shtm.

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