While in graduate school a few years back, I developed a strange fixation with oysters.
Now, I've never eaten them and never plan to, but I found the story of the native Chesapeake Bay bivalves fascinating -- I mean, people fought wars over them!
My oyster obsession led to several papers on the topic of their restoration -- which after over half a century of effort has actually left them worse off than before intervention -- and ultimately culminated in a policy memo arguing not for or against any specific polices, but rather a new approach to policy. To wit:
Despite the insistence of many intelligent individuals to the contrary, the problem plaguing oyster recovery efforts is not an inability to overcome the diseases; rather, the problem is an inability to overcome our dogmatic approach to issues of ecology and economics. The first question posed above asks what we have done wrong, and the answer is simple: we have mistaken the oyster situation for a single problem and therefore have generated single-minded policies to address it. In reality, we are faced with two distinct problems, one involving oysters and one involving watermen. And, to define these problems only in their joint context fails to account for the broader range of issues involved in both. The perfect example of our outmoded framework for addressing these issues is the current debate over the introduction of the non-native oyster Crassostrea ariakensis (Chinese Oyster). Proponents of the plan stress that these oysters would be able to supply watermen with a viable livelihood, while also increasing the Bay’s water quality; it sounds too good to be true because it is. When freed of the desire to find a single panacea for these two problems, we can finally begin to individually address the real needs of maintaining the oysters’ water filtration capacity and improving the sustainability of the watermen and their harvests by creating adequate levels resource stock, oysters or otherwise.Of course, I was writing this to get a grade and not so much to change policy, but prior to my ill-fated stint with the State Department of Natural Resources, the memo found its way into the hands of policy makers, who at the time weren't too keen on taking advice from some Longhair with a nebulous job title.
Nevertheless, despite its glacial pace, State government has proven me prescient.
Maryland should move toward an aquaculture-based oyster industry while at the same time trying to restore natural oyster bars for ecological benefits, according to a task force report.(Bolding mine.)
The Maryland Oyster Commission's 2007 interim report does not call for a moratorium on the harvest of oysters nor for an end to public subsidies for harvest programs. Rather, it says the state should over the next two decades change how it manages oysters.
"People understand that what we've done in the past is not working, and that we do have to take some dramatic steps," said Bill Eichbaum, commission chairman and vice president of the World Wildlife Fund. "We have at least put down benchmarks that are different from what's been done in the past."
The state has convened numerous panels to discuss oyster restoration over the years, and each has tried to balance the ecological benefits of keeping oysters in the water with the economic interests of watermen. The new report says economic and ecological goals for oysters are "mutually incompatible." The oyster population is at 1 percent of its historic levels.
I'm not trying to claim credit or even pat myself on the back (well, maybe a little). Perhaps I'm just proving the cliche about a broken clock being right twice a day -- personally, I prefer "the sun even shines on a dog's ass some days," but that's neither here nor there.
What is here, however, is the fact that with a new approach to oyster recovery we might finally start seeing some real progress, which, no matter how you shuck it, is very good thing.