From: Andy Sullivan, Reuters
Published July 20, 2005 12:00 AM

Oyster Isn't Endangered, Fishermen Tell Congress

WASHINGTON — The Eastern Oyster may be in trouble in the Chesapeake Bay, but any move to protect it as an endangered species could devastate thriving oyster fisheries from Maine to Louisiana, fishermen told Congress Tuesday.


The National Marine Fisheries Service is expected to decide by January whether the oyster should be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, a move that could prohibit it from being harvested nationwide.


The agency took up the review after an environmental consultant, Wolf-Dieter Busch, argued that pollution, disease and overharvesting makes such protection necessary.


The Eastern Oyster harvest has declined from 161 million pounds in 1890 to 2.4 million pounds in 2003, according to the fisheries service.


Busch's petition pointed to conditions on the Chesapeake Bay, where oyster harvests are at 1 percent of their historical levels, but it overlooked other areas such as New England and the Gulf Coast where oyster fisheries are thriving, fishermen and academic experts told Congress.


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Any problems in the Chesapeake Bay should be dealt with on a local level, rather than placing the oyster off-limits to fishermen and aquaculture growers up and down the East Coast, fishermen told the House Resources Committee.


"If the listing does go forward we can be assured that the market for oysters will collapse," said Robert Rheault, a Rhode Island oyster farmer and president of the East Coast Shellfish Growers Association.


In the Chesapeake Bay, Endangered Species Act protection could slow efforts to restore oyster habitats and force shucking houses to sell their valuable waterfront property, said Lake Cowart, vice president of the Cowart Seafood Corp., a Virginia oyster packer.


"This petition is a misuse of the Endangered Species Act," he said.


Committee Chairman Rep. Richard Pombo said the petition was a "half-baked analysis" that should not have been taken up by the National Marine Fisheries Service.


"If the current restoration activities to clean up the bay are not working, let's look at that, rather than waste the federal government's time and unnecessarily scare legitimate businessmen by ... studying a nuisance petition," the California Republican said.


Source: Reuters


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