Dregging ban gains support

SNOW HILL – The County Commissioners and local recreational fishermen have joined Ocean City in supporting the prohibition of hydraulic clam dredging in the coastal bays.

"The damage done by hydraulic clam dredging far exceeds the dollars that are gained by commercial fishermen," said Commissioner Linda Busick.

There are two bills before the legislature, one in the House and one in the Senate, attempting to create a mechanism to allow enforcement of restrictions on clam and oyster dredging, according to Bob Abele, a member of the Maryland Coastal Bays Program (MCBP) Board of Directors.

"At this point it appears DNR [the Department of Natural Resources] can’t do anything without legislation," Abele said.

Currently, each bill has appeared before the appropriate subcommittees in the House and Senate. Although each had a hearing, no action has been taken.

Over the last several years, DNR and the Fishery Advisory Committee have unsuccessfully attempted to control how many boats fish for clams in the coastal bays.

Dave Wilson, outreach coordinator for MCBP, said a limited entry policy is not legal, according to DNR.

"We need to go back to the drawing board," he said. "No one could agree so we’re kind of in limbo."

MCBP, while not opposing the legislation, is not supporting it either.

After working with the fishermen in recent years, the program will not support the strictest regulations, said Wilson.

"We need to get consensus on that and we don’t have that," he said. "We are an environmental organization but we work with everybody."

On the other hand, local recreational fishermen have organized to support the ban. Members of the local chapter of the Maryland Saltwater Fishing Association (MSSA) and the Ocean Pines Anglers Club (OPAC) testified before legislators in February.

"Our club does not usually get involved in these kinds of things," said Dick Niemann, who is on the Board of the OPAC. "We don’t know a lot about politics on the Eastern Shore let alone politics in the Maryland legislature."

With an unsuccessful attempt to get a similar bill approved during the 2006 legislative session behind them, the clubs decided to take a stronger approach this year.

"We’re just trying to get some exposure to the issue," said Niemann. "We have less than a month here."

Nieman testified in February that dredging for clams is like "strip mining" the bay bottom.

According to Dr. Harry Womack, a Salisbury University professor, "A hydraulic dredge will typically destroy about one square mile of the most valued habitat in the coastal bays each season it is working, leaving in its wake nothing, just a highly disturbed, lifeless soup of mud."

Niemann emphasized in a recent interview the recreational fishermen are not just concerned about the quality of recreational fishing.

"We truly believe the clam dredging is destroying the habitat down there," he said. "We’re trying to do something we think is good for the environment."

According to local fishermen, there are four or five clam dredging boats working the coastal bays, not the two that DNR often refers to.

"We’re not trying to put all these guys out of work," said Niemann. "By stopping clamming, it doesn’t take away their waterman’s license. They could go fish another way."