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Oyster farmers in Maryland could start marketing smaller-size oysters next year if the Aquaculture Coordinating Council of the state has its way.
The council, which is composed of oyster farmers, scientists, regulators and legislators, voted during its November meeting to decrease the size at which farm-raised oysters can be sold at a minimum of 2 inches. At present, the legal market size for Maryland oysters is at 3 inches.
A regulation that will make the change official will still have to be introduced by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.
A senator or delegate will first need to introduce a legislation that will allow the department to make those regulations. The council looks forward to the introduction of the legislation in the coming General Assembly, but it is not clear what the final change will look like.
On the other hand, the Maryland Natural Resources Police is objecting to the change, on the grounds that enforcing the statute and protecting bars from poachers will be hard with two size classes.
A number of council members say that it is a simple matter of growing markets for a product to help a struggling industry. The council has been promoting aquaculture in Maryland after almost two hundred years of depending on a public fishery.
Regulators made the 3-inch rule back in the 19th century in order for oysters to get two chances to spawn. However, that underlying principle is irrelevant when farmers are raising triploid oysters, which are sterile and never spawn.
Don Webster, the council chairman, said, “The product is the property of the person raising it. There is a market for the smaller oysters.”