Living on the water in Southern Maryland is one of God’s gifts. The Chesapeake Bay, and the Patuxent and Potomac Rivers, provide recreation, livelihood, and beauty to this area. Our representatives in Annapolis have worked hard to help preserve this beauty with regulations and permits, that help protect marine habitats.
Some of these regulations include restrictions on pier shapes, widths, and boathouses. For example, a pier, if above vegetated tidal wetland, cannot have a platform extending off. Any residential pier, no matter the location, cannot exceed 200 sq. ft. in length, and 6ft in width. These restrictions have a biological basis, but can be seen as a nuisance to the public.
Razor Clams burrow deep into the sand in the marine grass habitats. The most effective way to harvest these clams is through hydraulic dredging. This is performed by using a large metal contraption that is dragged along the floor of the body of water, with a jet that temporarily disrupts the sand in order to better dislodge the clams. The temporary disruption and dragging of a large metal crate across the sand dislodges the marine grasses and all that inhabit there. Creating damage that would take weeks to naturally correct itself.
The regulations on this action are minimal in Maryland. Dredging cannot occur within 300 feet of a bathing beach, only if there is a posted sign stating it is a bathing/ recreational beach. Areas of natural oyster bars, areas leased for shellfish growth, and public shellfish fishery areas, are protected by a 150 feet barrier. The majority of the marine grass habitats are closer to the shore, so the farther out the boats go the more protected the habitats are.
However, this leaves a large portion of our tidal wetlands, where piers cannot have even a small platform, up for grabs by watermen. How does shade do more damage than a metal rig uprooting the grass, common sense answers that one; it doesn’t.
Tony Pitcher, a 5th generation Broome’s Island watermen, started a petition to change the offshore barrier from 150ft to 250ft and was successful. However, he said the problem is not close to being solved. The suction machines only truly need 3”-4” tubes, but watermen use 6”-8”; which makes their job easier, but causes more damage. Mr. Pitcher recommended a 2 year moratorium on clamming, and reopening the watershed in zones to ensure the habitats are stable and secure.
Watermen are not to blame; they are trying to make a living. The restrictions on the watermen lack any protection to the same tidal wetlands that the pier regulations so rigorously aim to protect. A pier cannot have a platform because of the shade it causes on the seafloor, but the Razor Clam boats can rip up the grasses with their dredging rigs with no backlash from the government.
While pier regulations can and should be reconsidered in order to better reflect their lack of harm on marine habitats, so should Razor Clamming restrictions, in order to reflect the true harm that can come from dredging.