After a two-year process to find common ground on ways to improve oyster fishing practices and restoration in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers, the OysterFutures stakeholders reached consensus and submitted their recommendations to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The OysterFutures research program—an experiment in consensus building funded by the National Science Foundation—brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from the oyster industry, environmental groups, other nonprofits, and government agencies to build consensus recommendations on ways to improve the oyster resource in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.
“The ultimate goal of the OysterFutures stakeholder workgroup was to ensure that oyster fishing and restoration policies are informed by the best available science and share stakeholder stewardship values, resulting in an economically viable, healthy and sustainable oyster fishery and ecosystem in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers,” said OysterFutures project leader Dr. Elizabeth North, a scientist at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
In their package of 29 Consensus Recommendations for improving the oyster resource in the Choptank and Little Choptank Rivers, the OysterFutures Stakeholders recommended that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources:
- Enhance enforcement
- Explore a limited entry program
- Allow hand tonging in some sanctuary areas where no restoration efforts are planned, some with rotating harvest
- Increase planting of shell and hatchery-reared spat
- Complete planned restoration efforts
- Help place privately-funded reef balls
- Combine the above options to improve outcomes
- Use the Consensus Solutions process in Maryland
- Develop cost effective strategies for shell and substrate
- Coordinate investments in marketing strategies and business plans
- Consider increasing oyster fishery related fees and taxes
- Promote education, training, and research
OysterFutures stakeholders considered over 100 options in the process of making these recommendations, many of which were informed by the use of a computer simulation model which forecasted the potential outcomes of the recommendations.
“The stakeholders really wanted to explore a wide range of options, and they found many that are likely to result in better outcomes than continuing current policies,” said Dr. Michael Wilberg, the lead model developer on the project and professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
The OysterFutures research program was based on testing a new approach for making regulations and policies called Consensus Solutions. This process – which included multiple meetings, a diverse stakeholder workgroup, professional facilitators, and a science team – built the trust among stakeholders needed to achieve the consensus recommendations.
Nine workgroup meetings were held over two years with representative stakeholders from the key interest groups that affect and are affected by the oyster fishery. Through these meetings guided by professional facilitators, the stakeholders produced a collective vision for the future of oysters in this region.
The final report is available here: https://oysterfutures.wordpress.com/reports/
This project was supported with funding from the National Science Foundation’s Coastal Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability program with scientific support from researchers at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Virginia Institute of Marine Science and with professional independent facilitators from Florida State University’s FCRC Consensus Center, who developed the Consensus Solutions process and facilitated the nine OysterFutures work group meetings.