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The Maryland Department of Natural Resources is considering allowing shellfish aquaculture leasing in the St. Mary's River sanctuary that is compatible with oyster restoration. A public scoping meeting will be held Thursday, Dec. 6, from 3 to 7 p.m. at the Hampton Inn at 22211 Three Notch Road in Lexington Park.

Revisions to the lease law allow leasing in sanctuaries that is compatible with oyster restoration. Leases shall not occur on or within 150 feet of historic oyster bars and the total acreage of leased area shall not exceed 10 percent of the total sanctuary area.

Few oysters grow within the historic Yates bars in the St. Mary’s River, and areas of high oyster density exist outside of the bars. Because of this, DNR is seeking to establish regulations and policies to ensure that leasing is compatible with oyster restoration in the St. Mary's River sanctuary.

Eleven complete submerged land lease applications totaling approximately 90 acres were filed between August and December 2011 for the St. Mary’s River sanctuary.

The total allowable lease acreage is further reduced by 19 acres to account for two existing submerged land leases grandfathered into the sanctuary at the time that the lease law was changed to allow for leasing in sanctuaries.

To determine areas that already have functional oyster reefs, and in which leases may not be permitted, DNR may consider setting oyster density criteria. The public comment period closes at 4 p.m. on Dec. 12. To submit written comment, email fisheriespubliccomment@dnr.state.md.us.