What is Man O War Shoal?
Located off of the shores of Southeast Baltimore County, Man O War Shoal is the last large relic oyster reef in the Upper Chesapeake Bay. Over millennia, oysters built up this reef, depositing millions of bushels of shell and creating critical habitat for fish and crabs.
Man O War has always been a favorite fishing location for many recreational and charter fishermen, and the area surrounding it is vitally important for the commercial crabbing fleet in the Upper Bay.
Oyster harvest also occurs on the shoal. Local county watermen invest in oyster plantings on the shoal that they harvest when the oysters reach market size.
The vertical relief of the shoal helps to break up tidal flows oxygenating the water and creates thriving habitat for fish, crabs, oysters, mussels, barnacles and more.
Why is Man O War Shoal at Risk?
A 2009 bill mandated DNR to identify locations to dredge buried oyster shell. As the last remaining large shoal in the upper Bay, Man O War Shoal continues to be a target of watermen who claim that buried shelll is the only way to rebuild oyster populations in the Chesapeake.
Man O War Shoal contains approximately 100 million bushels of buried oyster shell in its core. This buried shell is sought for building up degraded oyster harvest bars to act as a substrate for oyster larvae to naturally attach to and further subsidize the wild oyster fishery where shell resources continue to be removed by harvest and siltation.
What is shell dredging and why is it done?
From 1960 until 2006, DNR spent nearly 49 Million dollars mining nearly 200 million bushels of buried oyster shell from the Upper Bay.
This volume is approximately the same as:
- ~200 times the volume of the US Capitol Rotunda
- ~100+ times the volume of the Epcot Spaceship Earth Dome
- ~3 times the volume of the great pyramid of Giza
- ~6 times the volume of the Houston Astrodome
The mined shell was then barged into the southern Bay where salinity is higher and supports better reproduction and growth of oysters.
This effort was known as the “Repletion Program”, and was a long standing subsidy for the public oyster fishery.
The program failed to produce long-term benefits for the oyster industry or the oyster resource.
When concentrated shell deposits were exhausted and public opposition to dredging developed the program stopped. After the program ended the upper bay bottom had been forever altered and the public had nothing to show for the use of this finite natural resource.
What is DNR's Plan?
What will dredging do to Man O War Shoal?
DNR's plan is to remove up to 5 million bushels of shell from the middle portion of the shoal over a 5 year period, and up to 30 million bushels long term.
The plan calls for 5 cuts on the south side and 5 cuts on the north side. Proponents for dredging claim that this action will not impact the structure of the shoal, but science tells us differently.
When a dredge cuts into the inner core of a reef or shoal, it allows oxygen to reach an area that has been sealed off for centuries. This quickly starts the process of decomposition of the core of the shoal.
With constant tidal flow across the shoal, the core may be eroded, undermining the shoal and forever changing the landscape of the area.
When will dredging begin?
The Maryland Board of Public Works, made up of the Governor, Comptroller, and Treasurer, can vote to approve the permit and begin dredging at any future meeting of the Board.
If approved dredging will take place in year 2 and 5 of a five year period once started.
What can I do
to help protect Man O War Shoal?
Over the years, thousands of citizens, recreational anglers and upper Bay watermen have weighed in to DNR in opposition of this action. This opposition has seemingly fallen on deaf ears.
While legislative leaders have introduced legislation in previous years, no legal protection for the shoal exists.
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The debate on Man O War shoal goes back into the late 1980's when local Baltimore County Watermen, who felt the brunt of the impact of the repletion program started voicing concerns. Since CCA Maryland's founding in 1995 , we have opposed the dredging of Man O War no matter what the conditions or details. The stories, opinions, and complexity of this issue is overwhelming for most to comprehend, but to CCA it is simple. Do not forever alter one habitat to attempt to improve another, especially when history shows that all that exists from previous buried shell dredging are continued negative impacts on crabbers and anglers in the Upper Bay.