Trump’s Wall Hits a Wall by Steve Parks


When asked what I miss most following my retirement two years ago, I’m reminded that in my two decades as a New York theater critic and arts writer my tickets to shows I reviewed displayed the cost to me: $0.00. That usually gets a laugh from whomever poses the question. But there’s nothing funny about furloughed federal government workers who, starting last week, received pay stubs bearing their value: $0.00.

To what end? The president insists there’s a security crisis at our southern border and that the only remedy is to build Wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. The $5.7 billion for said Wall over which he has shut down much of the government would cover only 200 miles, if that. There are already 700 miles of barriers in strategic places along the border with Mexico, which would leave another 1,000 Wall miles to build. To figure the total cost you might suppose that quintupling would cover it–$25 billion and change. You would be incalculably wrong. The Wall will never be completed in Trump’s lifetime or anyone else’s. Just as we all should have known that Mexico was never going to pay for it. Forget that the president now insists he never said that. Who does he think he’s fooling? There are hundreds, at least, of videos proving what he promised time after time, often leading call-and-responses: “What are we going to build?” “The Wall!” “And who’s going to pay for it?” “Mexico!”

Don’t tell me the president doesn’t lie. “I never said Mexico was going to write a check for the Wall,” he said along the Texas border recently. He wants us to believe he was speaking metaphorically. But read any of his endless streams of mostly mindless Tweets and you’ll see that the president wouldn’t know a metaphor from a meatball.

But what matters right now is all the suffering he’s causing for a stupidly impossible vanity project. A week before Christmas, Trump was ready to sign off on a compromise that would leave the government open. All departments would be funded except the Department of Homeland Security, which would stay open with a continuing resolution until a compromise could be reached on border security, with $1.3 billion already on the table for Trump’s Wall. The compromise now sits on Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. All he has to do is put it up for a vote. It would pass, perhaps by a veto-proof margin.

But Trump spends much of his “executive time” watching cable news. (If you doubt it, just look at the timing of his Tweets.) Right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter derided him as a fake president should he back down from his central campaign pledge. Forget Mexico paying for it. Just build Wall anyway and let middle-class American chumps pick up the tab. The word “fake” must have riled Trump, who’s always throwing it around regarding news dispensed outside of Sean Hannity’s Fox orbit.

Trump shut down the government over comments delivered by a blowhard former prescription drug addict and a wicked-tongued woman who once said of 9/11 widows who questioned George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion that they “reveled” in their husbands’ deaths. These are Trump’s “advisers” now that he’s chased away most of those who have some clue of which they speak.

All of this to build a Wall that can never be realized and would be ineffectual anyway. When Trump visited the border, he was shown pictures of tunnels dug beneath portions of walls, fences or other barriers. And he was asked about photos showing a steel-slat barrier, which he’s favored lately, that had been sliced through using a hacksaw you could buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot. His response? “That wall was built by previous administrations” (translate Obama), ignoring the lineup of other prototypes ordered by Trump clearly visible in the background. He further lies that 4,000 terrorists crossed the southern border in the last year and dispatched his vice president, secretary of homeland security and hapless press secretary to repeat his lie. The figure from the latest year available, 2017-18, from the president’s own Department of Homeland Security, is 6. And these were only suspects, such as people who bore similar names to known terrorists. Other numbers show that illegal immigration at our southern border are lowest they’ve been in this century.

There is a crisis at the border, a humanitarian one as Trump mentioned in his Oval Office address. But the crisis is of his making, starting with separating children, even preverbal babies, from their parents. Many parents who’ve not already been deported are held in internment camps while their children are detained separately in other obscenely for-profit facilities. And we’re all paying for it. Not Mexico.

Trump’s Wall will never be built no matter how loudly he huffs and puffs. Most of the land along the Rio Grande as well as parts of the desert west of Texas is privately owned. The president has threatened to divert FEMA funds meant to help American citizens devastated by wildfires and hurricanes and also the Defense Department budget to pay for Wall. But that’s only part of the bill. To build his Wall, the president has proposed declaring “military eminent domain.” That sounds like martial law—using force to take private land from ranch owners and others. Still, they would have to be compensated at whatever is deemed “fair market value.” One ranch owner said he wouldn’t sell “if they offered me a trillion dollars.” Eminent domain, even with a military threat—does the president propose arresting anyone who doesn’t take his offer?—means litigation. A massive government takeover of thousands of square miles of private land would occupy courts along the southern border for decades at an astronomical cost unimaginable even to Trump.

The best outcome I can foresee is that the president goes through with his threat to declare a national emergency and the courts give him even a partial go-ahead. Before an ounce of concrete is poured after all the court challenges, Trump will be out of office. We’d be left with a precedent for the next president to use for a global emergency—climate change. Maybe we’ll still have time to save the lowlands and islands of our Chesapeake region from being swallowed up by rising sea levels.

May that be your ironic legacy, Mr. President.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.



Homage to Poet Mary Oliver: “When Death Comes”


Editor’s Note: Poet Mary Oliver passed away this week at the age of 83 years old. Oliver was a special favorite of the Spy and we sadly mourn her passing. 

We asked one of the Spy’s other favorite poets, Sue Ellen Thompson, to suggest a fitting poem to honor Oliver, and she very quickly responded with Oliver’s classic, “When Death Comes.”

When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
–Mary Oliver

Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast at Rock Hall Fire Hall


The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Breakfast will be held Monday, January 21, 2019, at the Rock Hall Fire Hall. Chester Valley Ministers Association (CVMA) with support from Kent County Arts Council sponsors this yearly celebration of the life and work of Dr. King. This gathering includes the presentation of the Humanitarian Awards, the Vincent Hynson youth awards, poetry by Robert Earl Price, and music by Kent County High School Jazz Ensemble, The Gospel Shepherds, and Chester River Chorale Chamber Singers. This year’s keynote speaker is William W. Davis, Jr. Cecil County Circuit Court Judge, who holds the distinction of being Cecil County’s first elected African American Judge.

In honor of the memory of Vincent Hynson, who passed away in 2004, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast Committee and Kent County Arts Council recognize three Kent County Middle School students who exemplify the values and actions practiced by Vincent Hynson who was a beloved school teacher, pastor, community activist, and friend to many.

Teachers and administrators have selected three such students:

6th Grader Krishita Dusia lives in the Galena area and is a fine student whose favorite subject is math. She is active in Band, and loves archery.

Ariel Purnell is a 7th grader whose favorite subjects are math and social studies. Her after-school activities include being basketball manager.

The 8th Grade awardee is Ryland Bartley. A resident of Worton, Ryland loves sports, reading and math.

Award winners for Kent County Middle School students, Ryland Bartley, Krishita Dusia and Ariel Purnell.


Award winners for Kent County Middle School students, Ryland Bartley, Krishita Dusia and Ariel Purnell. Also pictured are members of the MLK Breakfast Committee: Leslie Prince Raimond, Rev. Shiela Lomax, Carolyn Brooks, Emerson Cotton, Rev. Mary Walker.

High School Student, Taiyana Goldsborough in front of the Trojan mural at Kent County High.

Also being presented at the January 21st Breakfast are the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Awards which are given for significant contributions to the quality of life in Kent County. The youth award will be presented to Taiyana Goldsborough, a senior at Kent County High School. She is active in sports and science with plans to attend college with a commitment to play lacrosse, and major in meteorology. She is involved in many community projects and is an officer in student government and the Minority Scholars Program.

The Humanitarian Award goes to Naomi Blackshire who is well known throughout Kent County for her concern and care of her friends, neighbors, and the residents throughout the Community.

Tickets, $15, can be purchased from CVMA members, or at the door. Breakfast starts at 7:00 am, with the program beginning at 8:00 am.



Shining Star by Nancy Mugele


I need a vacation from my winter break. The twelve days of Christmas were a joyful and exhausting whirlwind, and I think we celebrated Christmas three times. Jenna and I spent the weekend before Christmas in NYC doing our traditional store window visits, seeing the tree in Rockefeller Center and attending a Pentatonix concert, which she gave me as a birthday gift. We spent December 24 and 25 in Nashville with Kelsy, Steven, and Otis. Jenna came with us and we met Steven’s family for the first time. Our Baltimore family Christmas Eve was on December 28 due to the work and life schedules of out-of-town adult cousins, Matt and Brittany in Minnesota, and Amanda in Massachusetts. James came from Montana and Kelsy from Tennessee for the festivities, so Jim and I had all three of our children, together under the red roof in Chestertown for several days.

In Christian theology, The 12 Days of Christmas begins with the birth of Christ on December 25 and ends with the coming of the Magi, the three wise men who followed the Nativity Star, on The Epiphany on January 6. As a young child, I always wondered why the three wise men visited with no women. What the heck? Surely, the women in their lives bought and wrapped the gifts they traveled to deliver. And, surely, there were some wise women who could have made the trek to help care for Mary, but that is another story.

Yes, The Epiphany is the culmination of The 12 Days of Christmas, but I have recently had an epiphany of my own –  a moment of sudden revelation or insight ( – or as I like to think of it, a shining star moment.

It happened on January 3, the same day Kent School students returned to class after winter break, when 127 women took the oath of the 116th Congress – 102 in the House of Representatives and 25 in the Senate. Up from 110 in the previous Congress, this represents a subtle shift and I hope a new trend with 15 percent more women in this Congress than in the last session. I am excited for the “firsts.” Congress now has its first Native American women, Muslim women and youngest female member ever. With more female voices at the table, I believe the country can truly become a “kinder, gentler nation.” (GHW Bush)

My shining star moment is this – the Federal Government needs to operate more like an independent school, and its leaders need to lead with competence, trustworthiness and accountability. Like Divisions in a school (Lower, Middle, Upper) the Executive, Legislative and Judicial branches must be more closely connected by communication and collaboration – even as their purposes are distinctly different. The silos of our current system are ineffective.

Congressional representatives should help educate their constituents on the issues facing our nation. While our Founders intended that the House members would advocate for their local community, and the Senate would be responsible for national issues, members of the House and Senate must be on the same page at least for some important issues. They should act for the greater good, like teachers, and not seek individual fame. Congressional leaders should select overall priorities, and create bipartisan and inclusive ad-hoc committees to study tough issues. While this is supposedly happening, it is not transparent enough and is obviously not working. Participants from all three branches should be on these ad-hoc committees to examine issues from multiple points of view and expertise.

At Kent School, each student is assigned to be a member of the Red or White team – just like Democrats and Republicans. There are many Red and White contests throughout the academic year and the competition is fierce. Team members are very loyal to their team, even well after graduation! Yet, at the end of each competition, our students go home as friends. Our country’s leaders could learn a lot from this, and just imagine how much we could accomplish.

With all due respect for the longtime service of many members of Congress, I, for one, hope more and more educated young women, and men, decide to serve our country for a short time in Congress bringing fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. Most importantly though, I hope that people of character and integrity will continue to persevere and that other less deserving candidates will not be elected.

Oh, and one more final thought, if the Executive and Legislative branches are going to order a federal government shutdown, they, too, should not be paid.

For those of you who know I never discuss religion or politics, oops.

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Pickering Creek… the Natural Choice by Tyler Redman


Ever since I was young, I have loved the outdoors. The animals, plants and overall atmosphere that came with it captivated me. So, when I heard I could help out at Pickering Creek as a Junior Naturalist (JN), I was elated. I had already been going there for school trips, so I was eager to start as a JN in my 7th grade year. The staff at Pickering Creek do a wonderful job of preparing the JNs by offering Citizen Science classes throughout the school year, where we learn all about the environment around Pickering Creek, outdoor safety, and about nature in general. We also go on several field trips to other natural areas like Patapsco State Park, Calvert Cliffs Park and Cunningham Falls State Park. In addition to the field trips, we volunteer at a number of events, including at the public library and at Pickering Creek itself, where we get to teach the community about different animals, such as an assortment of turtles and share information about nature and conservation.

Tyler Redman

One thing I love about Pickering Creek is that there is a heavy focus on helping the environment we live in to thrive. I have participated in bird-banding and Monarch tagging to collect data for research being done on migration patterns. Pickering Creek also encourages JNs to invite their family to help volunteer at events organized by Pickering Creek such as marsh grass planting in Dorchester County.

Pickering Creek has prepared me well to instill my love for the environment in the youth who attend Pickering Creek Eco Camp. It’s thrilling to see the young campers just as excited about nature as I was at their age. Whether through showing them a type of animal or playing a fun game, there is always something to do that teaches them more about the environment. It is fun to see the same campers year after year and to meet new ones because that means they are having fun, want to keep coming back, and are telling others about their experiences. The summer ends on a sad but extremely fun note. Even though we have to wait another year until the next EcoCamp, all of the JNs are invited to one big campout where we share fun stories about the past weeks, develop lasting bonds, and enjoy the great outdoors at Pickering Creek.

After all of the amazing experiences I’ve had at Pickering Creek, I began to wonder, “What could I do to give back to a place that has taught me so much and helped me develop so many life skills?” That is when I decided to do my BSA Eagle Scout Project at Pickering Creek. So, after reaching out to the Pickering Creek staff, I chose to re-route and create new trails. During my time as a JN this July, it was fun to see the campers enjoying the new trails I built and it felt great knowing that I gave something back to Pickering Creek. As well as building trails, I constructed two benches which were placed at ends of trails that overlook the creek. The views from each bench are serene so people will be able to rest and enjoy the beauty of Pickering Creek. I also built a birdhouse that I placed in a tree at the end of the creek overlook. It has the image of a Blue Jay wood burned onto the front of it and is specifically meant to provide a nesting place for Blue Jays or other birds. This bird house is special because “Blue Jay” is my JN nature name that the campers call me.

I know I’ll always love the outdoors, whether it means pursuing a career that relates to the environment and animals, or just exploring and going on outdoor adventures. I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in both Boy Scouts and Pickering Creek, which have increased my love and appreciation for nature. I’m excited to continue to make more memories at Pickering Creek. This exceptional place has impacted my life in such a positive and incredible way and I will always remember it.

If it hasn’t already, I hope someday Pickering Creek will impact yours as well.

Tyler Redman is a Junior Naturalist at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. For more information, please go here.

“The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It” Opens Friday at the Garfield


The Curate Shakespeare

As You Like It

a comedy by Don Nigro as directed by Earl Lewin

“Being the Record of One Company’s Attempt to Perform the Play by William Shakespeare.”

This sparkling comedy presents the tribulations of an itinerant band of amateur thespians, led by a dotty cleric, in their attempt to present Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Seven actors valiantly create thirty-odd different parts, as they frantically switch roles and costumes. By turns pushed, pulled, exhorted, inspired, and browbeaten by their curate, they often want to quit, endure countless humiliations, and make a near hash of the precious and holy words of the god Shakespeare. But now and then, to their own considerable surprise, they stumble across moments of beauty and integrity. It’s a hilarious send-up of all things theatrical (with jabs at our own 2018 production!) from one of the modern   stage’s funniest playwrights, Don Nigro.

The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It is directed by noted Chestertown playwright and director Earl Lewin.  The cast features company co-founders Avra Sullivan and Chris Rogers, along with members Max Hagan, Kathy Jones, Christine Kinlock, Brian McGunigle, and Troy Strootman.  Original music and choreography are by Greg Minahan, and costumes by Barbi Bedell.  Stage management is provided by John Feldman.

January 11th – 20th, 2019 

Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 pm.      Sundays at 3:00 pm
The Garfield Center for the Arts       Chestertown, Maryland
General Admission $15

The company is delighted to be partnering with The Garfield Center for the Arts to present The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It.  Be sure to call the box office at 410-810-2060 to make reservations for this delightful spoof of one of Shakespeare’s greatest hits!  Or send an email to

Get complete info HERE.
The Curate Shakespeare As You Like It is presented by special arrangement with SAMUEL FRENCH, INC


Op-Ed: The State of Shore Regional Health in 2018 by Ken Kozel


Looking back at 2018, I want t to share the great progress made by UM Shore Regional Health in realizing our Mission, Creating Healthier Communities Together, and our Vision, To Be the Region’s Leader in Patient Centered Health Care.

November and December were dominated by preparations for our successfully completed week-long accreditation visit from the Joint Commission, followed by the transition to EPIC, our new electronic medical records system, linking patient care information within and outside of Shore Regional Health and the entire University of Maryland Medical System. Both of these achievements required an enormous amount of preparation and work for team members at all levels and all locations of our organization. I am particularly proud that throughout these near-simultaneous events, patient care remained our priority in every aspect of our inpatient and outpatient programs.

2018 was marked by several other important milestones:

Our Cardiac Catheterization Center exceeded our expectations in the number of life-saving emergency percutaneous coronary intervention (STEMI / PCI) procedures – when a heart attack results from a critically blocked artery and time is heart muscle. We are approaching 60 since the designation as a Cardiac Intervention Center (CIC) by MIEMSS in February, 2018. The Center’s Electrophysiology Service is effectively migrating patients from various medications taken prior to ablation and improving their quality of life.

UM SRH programs earned recognition from several prestigious accrediting and certification organizations during 2018. Cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs in our three hospitals were recognized by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR). At UM Shore Medical Center at Easton, the Primary Stroke Center earned re-designation from MIEMSS, and the American Heart Association’s Gold Plus and Target Stroke Honor Roll Elite Plus designations. Our Requard Center for Acute Rehabilitation earned re-accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF).
Expanding access to care, a challenge for rural health care organizations such as ours, has been an ongoing focus for UM Shore Regional Health. 2018 saw considerable progress in this arena, as UM Community Medical Group added 18 new providers in primary care and several specialties. In palliative care and behavioral health, barriers to care formerly posed by geographic distance and travel times have been greatly diminished by telemedicine programs launched during the past year.

The Regional Opioid Task Force, formed in 2017 by UM SRH and including representatives from law enforcement, health departments, and drug and alcohol rehabilitation, accomplished its mission of creating a standard intervention for patients involved in an opioid overdose. Our four emergency departments now offer consistent interventions that include medical evaluation and stabilization, a voluntary behavioral health assessment, a standardized educational message, connection with treatment providers, and expedited referral to A.F. Whitsitt Center for continued treatment and rehabilitation.

Plans for improvements and additions to our physical facilities also moved forward during 2018. We filed a Certificate of Need (CON) application with the Maryland Health Care Commission in September for a new, six-story, 135-bed hospital to replace Shore Medical Center at Easton. Three other regulatory applications, known as Certificates of Exemption (COE), were filed in July, 2018. These detailed the proposed conversion of Shore Medical Center at Dorchester to a freestanding medical facility that will include a state of the art emergency department, observation beds, diagnostic services, primary and specialty care, outpatient services and ambulatory surgery. These applications include proposals to relocate the inpatient beds and the behavioral health inpatient unit from UM Shore Medical Center at Dorchester to the existing Easton hospital, with very minor renovations, possibly as early as spring 2021, when the freestanding medical facility campus is complete. Coming much sooner is our new Shore Medical Pavilion at Denton, slated to open in early February 2019, which will provide “close to home” care for residents of Caroline County. The new pavilion will house primary and specialty care providers, laboratory and imaging services, outpatient behavioral health and rehabilitation care, and a home health office. We look forward to a formal opening event in the spring.

The three volunteer Auxiliaries and Foundations associated with UM Shore Regional Health continue to play a key role in advancing the quality of care provided in our hospitals and our outpatient services. Auxiliary volunteers contributed more than 57,000 hours and thousands of dollars to their respective hospitals in 2018. Support from individual donors, local businesses and foundations enabled us to purchase upgraded medical equipment and life-saving technologies. We are so grateful for the support of the Auxiliaries and Foundations, and that of our UM Shore Regional Health Board members, who devote their time to our mission.

Our focus upon a service excellence culture has transformed the ways in which we provide care, how we interact with patients, family members and loved ones, and how we support each other throughout the organization. It is heartwarming to feel the positive energy, caring and compassion in our team, our physicians and advanced practice providers, and the many volunteers who support these efforts. I am grateful for the support of our communities and the dedication of UM Shore Regional Health team members – our board, our Foundations and Auxiliaries, our physicians and providers — in all locations throughout the five county region we serve. Shore Regional Health is Where the Health of the Eastern Shore Comes First and we are so proud to serve your needs.

Ken Kozel is the president and CEO of UM Shore Regional Health

A New Year by Nancy Mugele


Although tonight my family and I are in Baltimore celebrating Christmas Eve (that is another story), the annual ritual of welcoming in a new year is fast approaching. I don’t really understand what all the hype is about. The sun always sets on December 31 and rises on January 1, whether or not we stay up past midnight to usher in the new year, champagne flute raised, searching for someone to kiss, while stating our resolution. For me, and for all educators, the new year really begins in September.

So why doesn’t the academic year begin in January? Historically, farming and feeding the family (and community) took precedence over everything. The school schedule followed the seasons of fall harvest, winter hibernation and spring planting so that during the summer growing season, all hands would be “on deck,” or in field.

The winter is an excellent time for school, because no outdoor farming can be accomplished – although amazing cooking and feeding certainly happens. When Kent School students return to class next week we will enter a long stretch of deep learning uninterrupted by holiday breaks. I am always amazed at the growth that happens in students during the winter months. What seems to us to be a dark and dormant time of year is actually a time of great awakening in students. Connections are made and maturity is gained. The blooms appear in the spring – but I am getting ahead of myself.

With a nod to my roots and my Boston family, Massachusetts became the first U.S. state to pass a compulsory education law in 1647, when it was still a British colony. A similar law was again passed in 1852, which required every city and town to offer primary school, focusing on grammar and basic arithmetic. The first secondary school opened in Boston in 1861. With a nod to my Maryland family and friends, Washington College was “the first college chartered in the sovereign United States of America” ( by the Maryland legislature in 1782.

These milestones are significant because they clearly illustrate that education at all levels has been highly valued in our country since its inception. Thankfully, for each of us. Whether the academic year begins after Labor Day or after New Year’s Day is irrelevant. We have a school year, and for that we should be eternally grateful. It would, however, be a lot easier if it did not straddle two fiscal years!

That said, imagine our country with no formal education. It is impossible. Although I am not one for New Year’s resolutions, I do have one this year, and it remains unchanged from the prior two years – to continue to enhance the Kent School educational program in our unparalleled environment for learning. Grateful to begin 2019 in the Chestertown and the Kent School communities.

Happy New Year!

Nancy Mugele is the Head of School at Kent School in Chestertown, a member of the Board of Horizons of Kent and Queen Anne’s, and a member of the Education Committee of Sultana Education Foundation.

Op-Ed: Oyster Sanctuary Advocates Looking for “Black Cat” that Doesn’t Exist by Marc Castelli


The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) often boast about their sanctuary projects. They commend themselves for locking up thousands of acres and planting over one billion oysters in Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sanctuaries. Such a large account should earn ample interest, but in the case of the sanctuary projects, these banked oysters see no return or interest from the investment.

As indicated in their charter and declared at public meetings, the prior Administration at DNR and the various oyster partners such as CBF, USACE, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made it clear that sanctuaries were created to be engines of oyster reproduction. Promises and guarantees were made that the industry would benefit from these spat sets and see an increased harvest from the sanctuary program. Instead, these plantings have marooned hundreds of thousands of bushels of oyster shells which will never be retrieved for future plantings or cultivated for better results. The spat progeny are not even located in nearby areas. One needs to question the benefit for oystermen or for the value chain into the communities from which they work. There is no interest from the investment, yet CBF wants to further reduce harvest by tightening the management of the fishery and adding additional restrictions. CBF needs to leave the oysters that are in legal harvest areas available for legal harvest and both they and Riverkeepers need to conduct themselves in a fair equanimous fashion that guarantees access to all programs.

Charles Darwin once described a mathematician as a blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat which isn’t there. The disappointment voiced by the collective opposition to the recent findings of the oyster stock assessment reminded me of that quote.

This search in the ‘dark room’ was a result of a reaction to an enhanced sanctuary management experiment that was agreed upon by the Oyster Advisory Commission (OAC) which would turn four designated peripheral portions of a tributary sanctuary into a plant and rotational harvest program. The plan called for a constant planting of seed on shell in perpetuity at the industry’s expense. Planting would also have been carried out on the heart of the sanctuary that would remain a pure sanctuary, devoid of any harvesting. This more active investment by watermen working portions of the projected sanctuary would have increased the numbers of oysters in the designated tributary at no expense to CBF, Riverkeepers, or the state. It was seen as a win-win for all stakeholders represented in the OAC.

Unfortunately, the CBF did an end run on the very commission of which it is a member and betrayed the hours of work that went into the plan. The CBF led opposition went to the state legislature with a bill forcing a stock assessment that would stop the experiment from being implemented. Elementary school teachers, sports fishermen, recreational fishermen, and Riverkeepers voiced variations of the CBF opposition and, with no fact-based information, testified against such an active management plan. Although there was a consensus that any additional oysters in the Bay would be favorable, the emotional testimony included lip service about respecting the thousands of people dependent upon an actively managed oyster industry. The legislature chose to ignore the opposing arguments about the benefits of the proposed rotational harvest experiment and, despite the fiscal costs, gave in to the demands of CBF for a peer review study by a University of Maryland-led team.

Their ‘black cat’ was to have been a confirmation of their reputation for constant doom and gloom about oysters in the Bay. The stock assessment was going to be their final solution to their issues with the oyster industry and replenishment strategies. In its original vision, the stock assessment obviously and unfairly targeted just the industry. Much to the opposition’s chagrin, the state concluded that to be more scientifically accurate, the oyster sanctuaries needed to be included. The CBF led coalition thought it had found their ‘black cat,’ and rammed it through the ‘black room’ of a legislative session. The law passed and prevented changes to any sanctuary.

The assessment, however, did not produce the anticipated findings. It seems as if the parameters for the survey were biased from their inception. For example, the actual modeling mathematics was based on the Atlantic scallop which had little or no relevance to the Chesapeake Bay. Sanctuary numbers were not as good expected, industrial areas were not as bad as expected and generally speaking the mixed results did not indicate a dire crash that would necessitate further limits on any active management of sanctuaries, or furthering any new restrictions on the industry.

The writer(s) of the recent op-ed in the Annapolis Gazette revealed just such a bias. The headline, Our say: Oysters will be the big environmental fight when the General Assembly returns to Annapolis, was unnecessarily brash. The solution to the current state of oysters is evident to anyone who has spent years in the politics and biology of oysters.  Plainly put, oysters are being stressed at critical junctures in their lives by factors beyond the opposition’s control. There is a real need for all parties, and especially the industry, to seriously invest more time and money in the very same oyster programs that the opposition and the past O’Malley/Griffin/O’Connell administrations did away with 12 years ago. In addition to pursuing the environmental issues that threaten the actual Bay, these scientifically and economically proven programs need to include: more seed and shell plantings (using mutually agreed upon artificial substrates), researching more suitable artificial substrates that would take the pressure off of the dwindling stocks of oyster shell (for both sanctuaries and public oyster bars), more harvest reserves, and a return to rotational openings and closings of industry bars.

Several of these programs worked for many years.  However, the past administration decided to place all of their ‘eggs’ in the mega-sanctuary basket. There was no reasonable justification for this move, except a series of sincerely hoped for results from computer projections and theories. This political legacy, however, is still influencing oyster management. The Gazette op-ed does not mention these facts.

NOAA recently released the findings of their Atlantic coastal survey of shellfish. According to Chris Oliver, Director of National Marine Fisheries Service, “Our Northeast Fisheries Science Center recently published findings from a study focused on identifying the causes of the sharp decline in landings of the four most commercially important bivalve mollusks from Maine to North Carolina between 1980 and 2010. The four species are eastern oysters, northern quahogs, soft shell clams, and northern bay scallops.” In the past, overfishing was blamed for declines. However, this study showed that “habitat degradation from a variety of environmental factors, not overfishing, is the primary reason.”

CBF and its associates need to refocus on the water quality, sewage from Baltimore, better urban run-off solutions, air quality, and the environmental issues it can affect through better management of their dwindling funds. Attacking the industry is nothing more than grabbing the low hanging fruit as they have done for far too long. Great for attention-grabbing headlines, but not productive for Maryland.

Everyone needs to work on the oyster situation acknowledging that there is not just one solution. Let’s try to save the Bay for oysters instead of on the backs of oysters and oystermen.

Marc Castelli is a artist and photographer living on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. His work is focused on watermen, lobstermen, their workboats, America’s Cup racers and their yachts, and the extended families that race their log canoes of the Chesapeake Bay’s Eastern Shore. Marc hold a commercial fishing license with an oyster permit.