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Watermen Hope To Extend Oyster Season After Winter Freezes Income

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Giving back what winter has taken away.

Alex DeMetrick reports brutal cold put livelihoods on ice throughout the Chesapeake Bay.

When oyster season began, the Chesapeake Bay filled with boats and high hopes. The early catch came on strong.

But then, the ice came. So much ice--even boats designed to handle it had trouble moving.

Winter's deep freeze froze incomes for watermen up and down the Bay.

"Oh, the ice was terrible. Some of them lost as much as a month's work," Robert T. Brown, president of the watermen's association said. "Some places ice was 7, 8, 10 inches thick."

"You can't get out, which means you really just can't pay bills like everybody else. So, it's been tough on everybody," Jim Mullin, director of the oystermen's association said.

The men who head up the state watermen's and oystermen's associations are hoping legislators back a DNR proposal to extended oyster season by two weeks to April 14.

"We hope so, just to make up lost time due to the inclement weather, really," Mullin said.

In a rare move, Kent Narrows has also been opened up to oystering to help replace lost income, because right now, Chesapeake oysters are valuable.

Oyster economics is all tied to the Gulf of Mexico, the world's leading supplier. The harvest in the gulf this year  is down, pushing up the price for oysters from the bay.

"Yeah, there's money to be made," Mike Naylor, of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources said.

According to DNR, a bushel of oysters that used to bring $30 now brings up to $50.

"Two years ago, you might have needed to catch eight bushels to make it worth your time for the day. Now, if you just catch four, you're making about the same amount of money as you would have two years ago with eight," Naylor said.

Meaning two extra weeks of oystering could help relieve some of winter's bite.

To extend the oyster season, a special panel of state legislators must approve the proposal.

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